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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Karamir





It was a strange feeling, but Karamir wasn’t sure when he closed the door behind him -- or worse -- where it exactly went. He looked around, his feet standing on a square tile of stone, Keibrik right next to him, but that was all that was normal. The stone tile seemed to hang in a void of what was almost nothingness, save for giant mountain grotesques plastered and hanging as if in purgatory with him. They were all giant faces and heads, each with a different expression and all as still and lifeless as garden decorations.

“Well,” Keibrik’s voice echoed off of something, somehow, against all logic. As far as the eye could see there was only oppressive nothingness save for the heads, the sight threatening to absorb the mortal’s vision as his eyes attempted to dig deeper and deeper, looking for anything sensical.

“Well,” Karamir echoed. He peered down into the void for a moment, before taking a step back, and glancing up at one of the heads. “Should we go back?”

“Certified genius, that’s what your gravestone will read,” Keibrik waved his hand over the empty spot where a door used to be, “No, I think it’s best to just keep going.” He looked over the edge of the tiny stone tile and with a deep breath, he took a step off. His body fell -- up.

With bent knees he landed on the outstretched tongue of one of the giant heads (upside down), its stone tastebuds shaped like stairs. “Well, what do you know?” He called back to Karamir.

Karamir’s surprise lasted only for a moment. Nothing here made sense, he had to remind himself, and things like control and logic were arbitrary at best. So without any further delay, he followed in Keibrik’s footsteps and walked off the edge.

The void seemed to take him as he fell sideways, quickly approaching the open maw of a particularly fat face with large sundial eyes.

Karamir braced himself for landing, his knees buckling beneath him, but it never came. His body zipped into the mouth of the giant head, darkness taking him over briefly, only for it to suddenly relight. Keibrik’s voice seemed to fade away, and Karamir’s eyes fell on a new sight. He laid on a pile of bodies, each featureless and made of what seemed to be clay. They all seemed frozen in time, various gestures on their arms and legs. There were no walls, no ceiling, just the pile.

“Well it’s about time!” Keibrik scolded. The thief sat on a fine oaken chair atop the pile, a table raised in front of him as he sipped a half full teacup off a porcelain plate (pinky out). He wore a monocle on his face and a fine dark blue suit -- or was he always wearing that?

Karamir pushed himself up and rose to his feet. He took a step forward and nearly tripped as a limb caught his foot. “What… where are we?” he asked, looking down at the bodies with a vaguely disturbed expression.

His voice bounced around in an echo once, twice, three times while Keibrik finished his cup, only stopping as the noise skidded across the table, just for Keibrik to suddenly slam his cup face down over it. He smirked, “That’s enough of that.” The thief looked up from his capture and towards Karamir, “I suspect we aren’t much of anywhere.”

“So how did you get here? And how do we get out?” Karamir asked him.

“I didn’t and I don’t suppose you can,” Keibrik responded easily, “Or maybe...” The thief slowly stood up, snatching a gilded cane that leaned against the table. He squinted, “Ah yes, right over there.” He took a step, then another, and then he was suddenly gone. Karamir was forced to blink, his mind taking a moment to come to terms with the sudden nonexistence of Keibrik.

Once the initial shock had passed, he swivelled in place, scanning the room to see if the thief was still there, but all that was there was the empty void and the pile of clay men. He sighed. An explanation would have been nice. With nothing else to do, he stepped forward over to the spot where Keibrik had vanished, moving carefully to avoid tripping.

“No no, behind you,” Keibrik’s voice corrected him.

“Already tried that,” Karamir said, turning around. As he turned, he now found himself staring at a field of plush grass pocked with buttercups. In the distance, blue mountains ringed the meadow, with copses scattered here and there. The sky above was a deep cloudless blue and the smell of spring and autumn entwined on a fresh breeze. It almost reminded him of Kalgrun. In front of Karamir stood Keibrik, a wide smile on the thief's face.

“Oh you did, eh?” He smile grew even wider, only to snap to a sudden seriousness, “Karamir, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine--” He waved his hand towards a large brute of a man encased in boiled leather and a confident smile. The man smiled, a deep voice following.

“Hello.”

“Hello,” Karamir answered back with a nod. “Who would you be?”

“Names Ruby,” He grinned and held out a hand, “Don’t worry, I don’t really exist.”

“Same as me, I’m afraid,” Keibrik shook his head.

“You said that before, I think,” Karamir told Keibrik as he shook Ruby’s hand, wondering just where the big man had come from, but deciding he might as well go along with it. “Does anything from the Palace really exist?”

Keibrik looked at Ruby, “All of it?”

“All of it,” The brute nodded. The two looked at Karamir and Keibrik cleared his throat, “All of it exists, but it’s just easier to say it doesn’t -- er.”

Ruby pinched his chin, “Come to think of it, I don’t think I really understand it m’self.”

“Well it’s simple really,” Keibrik opened his palms as if physically giving the answer away, “Er... well. Yes, it all exists just as everything exists simultaneously?”

“Sounds smart to me,” Ruby shrugged.

Karamir furrowed his brows. “And do you know that for a fact, or is it just what you believe?”

“Well think of it this way,” Keibrik sat in a chair no one noticed before, “If none of it exists, then what exactly are you doing?”

“I’d say he is existing,” Ruby rubbed his chin and joined Keibrik in a chair of his own.

“Well of course, because we are experiencing him the same as he is experiencing us,” Keibrik offered, “But does experience calculate existence?”

Ruby shrugged, “Balls.”

“Balls,” Keibrik nodded solemnly.

Karamir frowned. What did calculate existence? At one point he thought the most difficult question was why anything existed, yet here they were talking about what constituted existence in the first place.

“Karamir, do you mind?” Keibrik all but whispered, as if warning Karamir of a gaffe sociale. He pointed a slender finger behind Karamir, the man’s thoughts jumbling around behind him in full view. Karamir turned, and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. Even the alarm at having his thoughts fully on display soon joined the swirling words and images.

“It’s always a hassle when that happens,” K’nell’s grainy voice sounded from off to the side, the gentleman sitting in a rustic chair. He leaned back and crossed an ankle onto his knee, “Never fear, I know just the thing for it.” He snapped his fingers and a blonde woman with a sharp look about her suddenly appeared next to Karamir, a basket in her hands. She handed it to Karamir.

His ‘thoughts’ seemed to have vanished in the air, and as Karamir accepted the basket it wasn’t hard to guess what was inside of it. Carefully, he opened it and peeked inside to find his thoughts bouncing off the wicker walls of the basket, one nearly escaping before he slammed the hinged lid back down.

He looked up from the basket and turned to face K’nell. “So… is there a way to get these back into my mind?”

“I would hope so,” K’nell smiled, “But enough of that, how are you enjoying the palace?”

“Well…” Karamir began, thinking back on what he had seen thus far. “Some rooms were enjoyable. Others weren’t. But-”

“Well that about sums that up dunnit?” Ruby looked over from his seat, a fat cigar stuck between his teeth, a pipe of smoke coming off of it. Keibrik took a wooden pipe out from between his own with a soft click.

“Quite.”

K’nell gave the two a bemused looked before looking back at Karamir, raising a single brow, “Please, continue.”

“Well it’s hard to explain. My entire life has been aimless wandering. First I was on Kalgrun - there were moments of joy and there moments of suffering. Then I ended up with Diana, which was mostly suffering, and that was most of my life - I almost forgot what anything else was like. Like Kalgrun… this place seems to have good things and bad things, but it works differently. I’d like to see more, to figure out how it works… but I don’t think I can stay here forever.”

“If I may suggest,” K’nell started, “That you shouldn’t think too much, lest you overflow your basket.” He smiled and slid his hand into his coat, slowly retrieving his silver tin. He popped the lid and plucked a cigarillo out and between his lips. He slowly put the tin back and raised a brow at Karamir, “Do you mind?”

“Do I mind what?” Karamir asked, confused. He began to look around, as if there was some detail he was missing.

“I’m terribly sorry: do you mind if I have a smoke?” He tilted his head at the other two, who were smoking along, happily chatting among themselves now.

Karamir shrugged. “I don’t know what that is, but if it’s what they’re doing then I don’t see any problem.”

“Very good,” K’nell sucked in a breath, an ember appearing at the end of his cigarillo. He held his breath for a savoring moment before let out a stream of purple smoke. The tendrils wicked around the scene, dissipating into the spring-autumn air. He plucked the cigarillo from his lips and nodded, “Please, speak your mind, then?”

Karamir took a breath. “Well, as I said… there’s a lot I think I can learn here - experiences I never encountered during my time on Galbar - but at some point I’m going to want to go back. So if the offer is still open… I’d like to stay for a time, but not permanently,” he explained.

“As it stands,” K’nell blew out another stream of smoke, “You may leave whenever you wish, but if I may ask -- why stay? What do you intend to learn here?”

“Whatever I can,” Karamir answered. “The library had a lot of information, and much of it was interesting. You mentioned something called music, which I still haven’t formed an opinion on yet. And every room of this place seems to be different, so I’d like to know what else there is to see.”

“I see,” The words were followed with a snake of smoke, “And if I may extend a hypothetical: what if you were to expend your natural life span before accumulating all there is to accumulate, what then?”

“Well… I don’t actually know if I’ll be able to learn everything, or remember it all,” Karamir answered. “And there might be things on Galbar that I can’t learn here. So I suppose I’d have to find a balance. Stay here for a time, and then at some point I’ll have to leave, regardless of whether my learning is completed or not.”

“An interesting proposal to say the least,” K’nell puffed on his cigarillo, “By chance do you know what you’re looking for?”

“I’ll accept whatever knowledge I can find,” Karamir said. “I’d like to know more about the gods and their spheres. More about the Architect. How the world was made and why. I’d like to know what else there is in the world beyond what I have experienced. And I’d like to know what might happen next. Maybe I’ll find some of those answers here, or maybe I’ll find something else, but finding anything is good.”

“To each of these quests, I’d like to apply the same question: why?” K’nell looked intently at Karamir for a moment before turning to watch a ring of smoke exit his lips.

“Why not?” Karamir countered with a small shrug.

“Would you like me to answer that, or are you simply being rhetorical?” K’nell mused idly, finally flicking his cigarillo into the air, the leaves disappearing into nothingness.

Karamir shook his head. “It is an honest question. Is there a reason why I shouldn’t want to know these things?”

“We are now exiting the realm of objectives in favor of subjectives, dear Karamir -- a dangerous territory where opinions become entangled with truths and lies, waxing choices and changing opinions.” K’nell answered, “There is a single answer and that is -- If I may reiterate: Why do you want to know these things and to what end?” He turned to give his full attention to the mortal, leaning forward in his chair.

Karamir took another deep breath. “When I was first created, I had questions for my creator. I wanted to know if there was anything beyond the struggle to stay alive. He told me I would have to figure that out for myself. But as time went on, I found no answers, and only more questions. If I can find those answers, it will put those questions to rest, and I can share that knowledge with others, or find some other way to use it. I need a goal to work toward, and simply staying alive doesn’t feel like enough.”

“A distraction?” K’nell raised his brows.

“A purpose,” Karamir corrected.

“Do you know the difference?” K’nell smiled.

“Another question I need to find the answer to, then.” Karamir answered.

“Hm,” K’nell folded his hands on his lap, “You see, we are in a delicate position here.” He started, “You are currently on graces while you figure out if you would prefer to return to Galbar or stay with Diana -- a detail that I cannot stress enough is the limit of such an interaction. There are fundamental truths and primordial questions that you in your current state should not be anywhere near. By your own admission you cannot pin the purpose behind your learning, a dangerous way to start your discovery. It would be simply irresponsible for me to house such activities in my own place of work, especially since I have already gifted all of Galbar the lens to which they need to find the very same answers you seek.”

“Then I won’t pursue those questions during my time here,” Karamir decided. “But surely there are simpler, safer things that I can learn here? Questions like: what is music, what are books, why haven’t I encountered those things on Galbar? Are those dangerous?”

“Personally,” K’nell held up a finger for a brief second, “I would be rather insulted to be the cause of any sort of pause in the advancement of higher thinking. I am not saying you should stop, I am saying that you should find your own basket before and while you do.” He paused, “Do you understand?”

“I shouldn’t learn things just for the sake of learning them?” Karamir ventured, glancing down at the basket in his hands. “You’re saying I should find a purpose first; get my own feelings and thoughts in order?”

“I’m afraid I didn’t say anything of the sort,” K’nell answered and slowly stood up, stretching his arms upwards. Slowly he brought them back down to rest along his sides, “Do you like flowers?”

“Yes? Some of them smell nice, and some are edible. A few might be dangerous, but overall I don’t see why I wouldn’t like them.”

K’nell smiled, “Do you have a favorite?”

Karamir shook his head. “I do not. But I could find one.”

K’nell shook his head along with Karamir, “A shame -- ah but you know, I personally have a favorite, myself.” A happy grin buzzed on his face, “Would you like to see it?”

Karamir nodded.

“Splendid,” K’nell smiled and turned to the right, his black boots pressing over the grass without a scuff, “Right this way then.”

Karamir followed, glancing back at Keibrik and Ruby as he walked, but the two were too engrossed in their own conversation over the meaning of Ruby’s name. He continued on, catching up to K’nell.

The god kept a brisk pace, folding his elbows square behind his back as he walked, whistling idly, “So you really have no favorite flower, then?” He asked casually.

“There are flowers that I prefer over others, but I never saw the need to value one above all else,” Karamir answered.

“Oh I see,” K’nell nodded slowly as they walked across the meadows, “Do you harbor any favorites at all?”

Karamir had to think for a moment, as he recalled memories from the furthest reaches of his mind. “There was a flower in Kalgrun,” he said, after a while. “It was plain, and yellow, and it grew everywhere. The smell wasn’t anything special, but I liked the way a full field of them looked, and since Kalgrun might as well be the closest thing I have to a home it’s one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think of it.”

“Very good,” K’nell continued his walk, “My favorite color is silver -- or is it grey? Well, same idea I suppose. I once even had a friend who reminded me of that color.”

“I wouldn’t say yellow is my favourite colour,” Karamir said as they walked. “My preferred colour would probably be blue, like the water. But who is this friend you speak of?”

“Oh, I have many,” K’nell mused, “Ah, here it is.” He suddenly stopped. The meadow was gone, as for when it was gone, Karamir hadn’t a clue. Instead they stood amid a park. Trees followed a carefully cobbled path, and spring fountains rippled tiny ponds. The two stood on the path, facing a line of bushes alongside it. Planted right before them was a single flower, its stem shooting out of a dark loam. It had wide broad leaves and was topped with a curly blue flower speckled with silver and long pistils.

Karamir knelt to inspect it closer, reaching out a hand but not quite touching it. “I see,” he said. “What about this flower makes it your favourite?”

“I suppose it just is,” K’nell answered, “It pleases me, that does make sense, does it not?”

Karamir nodded. “It does, I think.” After all, why would someone choose a favourite that didn’t please them? Then again, he considered Diana his friend when she had done little but hurt him. Did someone even need a reason to like something? He rose to his feet.

“It’s a very picky flower you know,” K’nell idly mentioned.

“How so?”

“Well you see, it absolutely refuses to simply grow wherever you put its seed, quite the conundrum,” K’nell explained, “Or at least it may be, if the solution wasn’t so clear -- it requires the right soil, the correct vessel. Sometimes I have to treat the soil, other times I don’t, but either way -- the seed only takes root when the soil ready for it. Such is flowers, I suppose,” K’nell let out a silky chuckle.

“I don’t know anything about making flowers grow,” Karamir said. “So you like it enough to go to all that trouble?”

K’nell tilted his head, “I have a feeling you may be attempting to read into this little... parable let us call it... a little too deeply.”

That gave Karamir pause. He had been wondering if there was a deeper meaning behind this conversation, but his question hadn’t necessarily been intended to reveal that. Still, if there was to be any meaning at all… what was it?

Flowers had always been minor things he hadn’t given much thought to unless asked. They could be easily stepped on or missed by something that wasn’t actively looking for them. Was K’nell saying he should put more attention toward the smaller, pleasant features of life? Was that deeper or shallower than whatever K’nell thought he was implying with his question? It was impossible to say, so maybe he should abandon the line of thought entirely. “Maybe I am reading too deeply…” he said at last.

“Mind your basket,” K’nell reminded Karamir, a chin nudging at the wriggling wicker contraption.

Karamir nodded. Just stop thinking too hard, he told himself.

“Now if there isn’t anything else,” K’nell began to slowly turn towards the headway of the path, the palace in the distance. His eyes waited on Karamir patiently, “I’ll be heading off while you continue to decide?”

“There is… one more thing.” Karamir said, recalling another thing that had been on his mind for some time.

“Indeed?” K’nell turned back to Kalmar, “What would that be?”

“Kalmar told me that there were other mortals on Galbar. The two he mentioned specifically were Arya and Hermes. He said that Hermes was created by you, while Arya was created by a god named Orvus. If this is where all creatures go when they dream… is there any way I could meet either of them, to learn how their experiences differed from my own?” Karamir asked with a twinge of uncertainty. Aside from Atalantia, Keibrik, or Ruby, virtually every creature he met had been an animal, a beast, or some sort of divine being.

K’nell’s expression dove into his usual cheshire grin, “I hope you don’t find me rude in reminding you, but the Palace is no mere toy of learning and manipulation. While it is certainly not out of its bounds, I have already given you quite the rope while you make a gracious decision, do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Karamir nodded. “This isn’t a place where I can see, do, or meet whatever I want, and I’ve already been given enough freedom as is?”

“Oh no, it absolutely is a place for such things for the right reasons,” K’nell quickly added, “I am simply reminding you that it is not your playground and that you are asking me to contort reality -- of which I can easily do, but can you just as easily appreciate?”

“I think I understand, then.” Karamir said. He couldn’t keep asking for help or guidance. He would have to journey through the Palace on his own initiative, make his own choices, and take what comes.

“Indeed?” K’nell raised his brows, “Well then I remind you to mind your basket, and inspect the fact that I never said ‘no’.” The god smiled again and began to turn away once more, “I take it that was all?”

Karamir nodded. “It was. Thank you.”

“But of course,” K’nell answered before fully turning away, arms still folded as he began to stroll down the path and leaving Karamir to himself.





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Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Lord Zee
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The Windweavers





Some time had passed since Rignol’s resurrection, though quite how long was difficult to judge up in the everblue sky. The machine which had given him new life had not stood idle and now the first undead was joined in the sky bastion by five others.

There was Ossian Bem, a humanoid void soul who had managed to form both a Slouch hat and a long over coat on her stone body. Unlike Rignol she had been a lot more forthcoming about her past, claiming to be an experienced soldier who had served as a revolutionary general in several wars of independence, though Rignol noted that she never mentioned if any of the causes she had fought for had succeeded.

Kabarna the fire giant. Her body had deliberate cracks torn into it, causing thin wisps of red verse to spill out and evoke the flames that had burned there in life. Crude depictions of what exactly she would do the squall that had killed her where carved into the stone of her body like tattoos.

Sun Jian who’s kind where apparently only know as Servants. He and the fire giant had been at odds initially, supposedly their creators had been at war for decades now. Neither species had actually fought the other and had instead both had been killed by monstrous creations of the opposing side, but the enmity had been there nonetheless. Azura’s insistence that their new life could be a “fresh start” had eventually cooled their grudge, but not before they all got to see how dangerous their new bodies where, as the small craters littering one of the rooms near the resurrection engine could attest to.

Auk-Ra-Shatara was a bird like creature whose body was clearly avian rather than simply evoking the theme of a bird. He had been stabbed in the back after complaining that his kind’s tendency of stabbing each other in the back was impeding their ability to escape a place called the infinite maze. They had self appointed themselves as the group’s mediator despite their unusual speech pattern making them ill suited for any task involving talking a lot.

Sha’Harim was a gorilla. They had not been one in life, but they had decided to take the form of one as a statement against their creator. What that statement was they had never said. The massive stone silverback did not appreciate being asked either.

The six of them had been raised in quick succession and then run through a series of tests to ensure that everything was working as Azura had intended. Physical exertion and endurance had been tested, revealing that the Armonia bodies where both faster and stronger than the flesh equivalent by a small margin and considerably more durable. They were quite a bit lighter than they appeared and could reduce their weight even further to allow for some rather remarkable feats of mobility, in particular while jumping.

Mental challenges seemed to be just as easy as they had been in life, though the need to stop and remember and reflect semi frequently was both a hindrance and boon. It was also discovered that most of the Galbarian undead had apparently never been exposed to things like mathematics or puzzles. Azura explained to the two void souls that the world they had been brought to was currently witnessing the dawn of mortal life and so the lives of all who were not living in the company of gods were still rather primitive, which was apparently something Azura wished to rectify.
.
Along with improving the lot of mortals Azura wished for their aid in protecting the soul vault they had come from and help with brainstorming exactly what the replacement for the incendiary death system of Katharsos would look like. Also what to name their new order. Also ideas as to what to do with her divine power in general and, possibly, help with acquiring more power to aid in implementing the replacement afterlife.

At the moment however she was content with teaching them so that they could teach the others once the resurrection of soul crystals really got going at a larger scale. The main skill she handed down to them was the verse, language, music and divine miracles, all woven together. Their bodies, powered by the verse itself, made using it easier and even the most tone deaf among them was able to wield Azura’s magic. Armonia could be raised, wind wielded, Tonnikala summoned and Alma communed with using it, the power to do so drawn from their own souls energy absorbing and storing abilities.

Then at long last, they day finally came. It was time to enter the Vault.




Rignol stood before the massive entrance to the place where he had been housed, yet it was just that. A place. It served a simple function, the housing of crystal souls, which he was one. But he was a cut above the rest, wasn’t he? After learning all he could from Azura, he realized his new place in the world and it was low. Once he would have scoffed at the mere thought of being lowly, but now, it was all he had. Save his thoughts of gaining a respectable place in this new world, no matter the cost. But for now, he would be the dutiful servant of Azura, and in time, grow to be more.

He turned around to face the others and said, “We have a simple task, dictated by Azura herself. Make sure the Vault is functioning properly, and to the highest of standards. Our siblings sleep within after all. Let us not disappoint them, nor Azura. Let us descend.” he said before humming an unknown tune as he turned around. A melody from the past, yet holding new purpose.

“You’re kind of overselling the goddess's instruction there.” said Ossian, the other void soul in the party. “Though at least it’s far more concise.” she added as she locked step with him.

“There is no overselling a divine decree” insisted Sun Jian behind them. The Servant was carrying one of their primary light sources, a single massive red feather that suffused the area around them with the light of the Blue. Auk-Shatara walked, or stalked, next to the servant, keeping themselves in between him and Kabarna the hulking fire giant. The even larger Sha’Harim knuckle walked along behind them all.

Ossian rolled their neck in place of rolling their non existent eyes. “Half the reason we’re down here is because you were curious about it Sunny. Her layering on reasons as to why it’s a good idea for us to check after the fact, does not change that fact.”

“Must you two bicker.” Rignol said from the front. “It matters not if Sun Jian was curious. Azura’s word is final. She gave us a chance at life again, this is the least we can do for her. Do not fool yourself, Ossian. I believe we all feel the same. Curious, just to different degrees.”

“Well yes, I am curious." Ossian admitted “Who wouldn’t be? But that wasn’t my point. My point is that this army/order we are going to be a part of will be one built out of volunteers. I’ve led enough of those to know that your rhetoric is going to cause issues down the line with how it clashes with the recruitment pitch.”

“I will not kneel.” came a rumble from the hulking form of Sha’Harim behind them. Ossian indicated back to the seldom spoken former pigmy, with both arms in order to express see, like that

“Friend-Allies!” interjected the avian Auk-Ra “Please let us cease-pause this arguing like Rignol said. There will be time later once task-mission is complete.” he was ignored.

“No one said you needed to kneel, Sha’Harim.” Rignol hummed. “Nor will my ‘rhetoric’ be detrimental to the recruitment process, Ossian. I am simply thankful to be… Alive again. Do you not feel the same way, perhaps?” he mused aloud, folding his hands behind his back as he walked on. “Hmm, It does not matter now, regardless. But rest assured, Ossian, when offered a chance at a new beginning, seldom do mortals refuse. Do not worry about it.”

“If I had waited I’d have been alive again eventually anyway, and in a far more pleasant manner. That seems to be Azura’s goal anyway. It’s that cause that I see value in following, not her divinity or her string-wrapped generosity.” Ossian replied.

“How can you say that when we owe our very lives to her!” Sun Jian exclaimed

“We owe our lives to other gods as well, who used us as servants and soldiers until we fell.” Kabarna said, the fire giant finally joining the discussion going on around her “Azura may not present herself like ours, but that doesn't mean she’s any different behind that mortal mask she’s wearing.”

“Shengshi and the Flame Demon or nothing alike you cretin” Sun Jian retorted, jabbing a finger past an exasperated Auk-Ra “Take that insult back right this second or else!”

“Stop-cease!” Auk-Ra’s taloned hand grabbed the offending limb thrust across his path and pushed it back to Sun Jian’s side. Their other hand pressed against Kabarna’s stomach in a vain attempt to prevent her from coming closer to the servant and responding to the threat “Do not fight-beat one another again. Vault-Place has enough dead in it already.”

Rignol scoffed. “Please, by all means, throw yourselves to the Gods who used you as servants, and soldiers. You were little more than play things to them. Do you really think they valued you? That they cared for your wellbeing? You died, remember. And who was the one that brought you back from death? Was it Shengshi? Was it Sartravius? No, my dearest companions. It was Azura.” Rignol said, landing at the end of the stairs. He then turned around to face them. “You can owe yourself to any God or Goddess, just know that at the end of the day, the only one that cared, waits above.”

“Now that we’ve arrived, we work in teams of two. Auk-Ra, you’re with Kabarna. Sun Jian, with Sha’Harim and that leaves Ossian with me. You know your assignments.” Rignol hummed again, before turning to Ossian. “Our descent is further yet.” before beginning to move off in the direction of the stairs. The dead general followed him a few moments later after trading a few unheard parting words with the other two groups.

The vault had grown even larger since last anyone had ended it, as the initiation of its true perose had mandated a massive expansion. To Rignol’s left the central chamber now descended ever deeper into galbar’s crust, a faint light emanating from its depths along with a constant wind. Small dots of faint light could also be seen all throughout the vault in a myriad of colors other than red, denoting the location of Armonia guards endlessly patrolling its halls.

“What are you humming anyway” Ossian asked eventually as they descended.

“Oh?” Rignol said absentmindedly. “Just a tune from the echoes of time, I suppose. It’s nothing special. In fact, I’d even say it was quite common from where I came from. Now it only holds meaning to me. Much like this place, a secret.” he said cryptically.

“And where was that exactly?” Ossian replied.

“A place, far, far away.” he said. “One not so different from this world, but different all the same.”

“It’s always none answers with you isn’t it.” Ossian let out an exasperated sigh which was an impressive feat for someone without lungs. “Do you have something to hide or were you just some cryptic fae out of a fairy tale before you died?”

“Now isn’t that a funny word, Fae. I hardly thought I’d ever hear the word again. Why, you know… I heard so many stories growing up, so many fairy tales of perfection and glory, and when I finally set out into the world, did you know what I found? More fairy tales, but these ones were different. They were of evil things that went bump in the night, that stole children, that corrupted them to do foul deeds. None of the stories I ever heard at home, made mention of such monsters. And do you know why, Ossian? Because my people, the Fae, were the monsters.” he said grimly. “Forgive me, if I care not to speak of the past. For like me, it is dead.”

There was only a stunned silence from Ossian. “I… Christ, I am never going to get used to this place.” she finally said, before raising an arm up and scratching behind her head awkwardly “I’m sorry Rignol. I should have recognised it as something you didn’t want to have brought up instead of being paranoid.”

“Don’t be. Paranoia has its uses. You were curious, and wanted to know what I am, where I’m from and more. It’s perfectly reasonable. I’d be far more concerned about whether or not any of it was true.” he said slyly. “Come now, we are almost there.” he said again.

He left the woman behind cursing quietly to herself on the staircase. Rignol then arrived upon another level, this one deep within the earth, hidden between walls and walls of stone. It was a special place, where the other void souls resided. He knew not how many were left, nor if any had come from his own world, but he knew they existed. Without waiting for Ossian, he entered turned into a corridor and halted in his tracks. Inside the room was very dark, save for a few crystals of deep crimson. Which was unlike what they should have been. Cautiously he moved closer to inspect and picked up the crystal.

It felt no different than any other crystal, but something invoked a primal sense of dread within him. It was wrong, and faulty. As he went to put it back, something jumped from the backside of the crystal and onto his leg. He looked down to see a small, arrow shaped creature rapidly ascending his stone body. Alarmed, he panicked and slapped the creature away where it fell to the ground. It did not move for a second, then bolted for him again. Rignol waited for it to get close, then in one swift movement, he stomped on the creature. There was a sound of something shattering, and when he moved his foot all that remained was bit of crystal.

Rignol set the crystal down, and swiftly moved out of the chamber and looked into the others, finding much the same.

“Rignol what the everloving fuck are you doing.” Ossan shouted, having finally caught up with him. She looked about ready to murdur him, but gave pause when she spotted the red crystals he had found. “Explain. Now. No bullshit I swear to god!”

He walked over to Ossian and said, “I’m afraid this time I have no answers. The crystals seem to be… changed, somehow. Worse, I found some sort of creature on a crystal. I don’t know what it was doing, but I can guess it’s the cause. We need to find the others and inform Azura immediately. Now come on, the creature attacked me. There’s no telling what they might be capable of.” He said calmly, before beginning to run.

He left her further accusations in the dust. They were quickly silenced by Sun Jian screaming bloody murdur in his native tongue a few moments later anyway. Ossian caught up with him a few moments after that, a red crystal carved in one hand. She was jumping rather than running, using the Armonia’s gravity defying Luft stone structure to leap up a dozen stairs at a time. “Evidence.” she explained.

The shengshian yelling continued unabated, leading them directly to the source. It seemed that he’d been lucky with only finding one. The servant and gorilla were being swarmed by a dozen of the vicious creatures. Sha’Harim had the worst of it, the large ape unused to his own shape could to little more than violently shake the bugs off of himself as they tried to bore into his body and corrupt his soul. Sun Jian was doing better as the screaming turned out to be less out of fear and closer to some kind of war chant, or possibly just gratuitous swearing, which he cried out while striking at the bugs with the palms of his hands.

Rushing into action, Rignol began to help Sha'Harim deal with his bugs. One by one, he shattered them with his hands as he avoided the mad stomping of the gorilla. All was going well until he got hit in the side, sending him flying into a pillar. Mildly disoriented, he began to rise to his feet and said, "Sha'Harim you must use your verse!"

“No singing!” the gorilla roared as the crashed against one of the shelves, crushing a few and scattering souls all across the corridor. “Pull yourself together man!... ape? Whatever, just quit rampaging so we can help you!” Ossian shouted as she stomped on one of the bugs.

Rignol sighed in annoyance at the Gorilla’s stubbornness, but knew that shouting at him would not help. A part of him wanted to see what the creatures were capable of, and that part of him almost stayed his hand from further helping. But the consequences of such an action would be dire and he thought against it. Instead, he began to hum. The same tune he had been humming all day, but instead of being silent, the hum began to grow louder, more potent and noticeable. No longer soft and sweet, the verse changed to that of power and hidden anger. He moved forward, slowing raising his hands as a wind began to fill the room. He could feel the currents, pulling and tugging, growing all around. Then he pushed with his hand, and all at once the wind was commanded, and a mighty gust slammed into Sha’Harim’s body, relieving him of the creatures, and then he pulled upon the wind with his hands and then guided the current to Sun Jian, washing him clean of the creatures.

Rignol then dropped his hands as his humming died down and with it, the wind. He had not used that gift before, but perhaps he needed to put more time into it. The rush of power was exhilarating, but there was no time to bask in it.

“Run. Up to the upper levels, now!” he said to the others.

The other three glanced at him, then each other and then finally obayed

“That was most impressive Rignol. ” Sun Jian complimented as they raced up the next flight of stairs. “I had not realized you had gained such master of Azura’s holy gifts.”

“Dangerous and reckless.” Sha'Harim said. Whether it was the Ringol himself that was the danger or simply the unprecedented use of power in combat, the former pigmy did not elaborate.

“Less talk, more regrouping.” Ossian snapped at them before asking “Do you know where Auk-Ra and Kabarna went?”

“Naturally.” Sun Jian said before moving to the front of the group and leading the way.

The servant had clearly watched the final groups movements after they separated, for the route they took was not an obvious one. His knowledge lead them to arriving just in time to see a bug forcing its way through one of the self-inflicted cracks in Kabarna’s body. Of her avian companion, there was no trace. Shattered remains of many attackers’ littered the area but what had brought her to the brink of ruin was a wholly new threat. A wind elemental floated a few feet away from her, a beam of glowing electrical energy lashed out from its outstretched hand, striking the undead giant. The power passed though her form, to grip her very soul, and the elemental was using its wind gusts to pin her face against one of the shelves. Its crystal heart was twisted by the corruptors causing its winds to whip about erratically and its solid parts to shudder as it wielded Azura’s power of soul crystals in the name of desolation.

Sun Jian, leading the way, did not hesitate, instead launching himself at the fire giant and gripping the barely protruding legs of the horrid creature attempting to destroy her. Feet braced against her back he pulled with all his might. Yet even as he did so the corrupted elemental raised its hand to grasp his soul too.

Rignol took an offensive stance and began to hum again, but quickly shouted at Ossian and Sha'Harim, "Do something useful!" Before renewing his humming. This time it was more of aggravation and annoyance but still conveyed a musicians touch.

He outstretched his hand at the wind elemental and with it came a torrent of air, knocking into it and throwing its balance off. Rignol did not let up his assault as the creature began to focus its undivided attention on him. Grasping the opportunity Sha'Harim charged, knuckles pounding against the stone floor. The Gust meanwhile fought back, one hand blasting wind in opposition to him while the other shot the soul grasping lightning at the charging ape.

In response Sha'Harim leapt up, hand grasping a shelf to swing him up and forwards. The beam of energy chased him up and caught his soul right at the end of his accent. His spirit was caught, but his body was far larger than it was meant to be and so gravity and momentum overcame the Gust’s power. Sha'Harim came crashing down just beside the Gust. it turned to face him, but Rignol‘s wind buffeted the construct and allowed his ally just the amount of time he needed to headbutt it. Hardened stone met it’s corrupted skin and found it wanting, the skull of the gorilla smashing through the free floating fragments that made up the wind elmental’s own head. It wavered, but did not die. Instead its remaining form buckled in on itself, limbs and chest consolidating in a sphere around its core that burst forth a torrent of wind which forced even the mighty Sha'Harim back.

Then came the faint sound of a whistle, bary audible against the gale that blasted the undead team, and then a loud rapid flute solo that ended with a high pitched tone which pierced the heart of the gust.

The Gust exploded, letting out one final burst of wind that knocked several of them of their feet. It also was the last wrench that Sun Jian pulled the corruptor bug out of Kabarna’s body. Freed from the jaws of double death she came up swinging only to realize they were no longer under attack. She glanced around and was the first to spot the source of the whistling.

Down at the entrance to the corridor they had come in stood the absentee Auk-Ra and Ossian. Behind them stood a green Armonia, twice their height. Its limbs where long and spindly, as was most of its body save for its chest and neck where verse spilled from its stone body, granting it an impressive set of sudo-lungs. In its hands it bore a massive flute, long as Ossian was tall, which it had used to destroy their foe.

“You spineless coward! You left me to die!” Kabarna accused the bird, jabbing an accusatory finger at him.

“No-no, you misunderstand friend-comrade. I knew you could handle yourself as I could not, so I went and got help-support” the bird said, before whistling a tune (it sounded like bird song) causing the Armonia to give her a thumbs up with its free hand.

“One of those things nearly killed me! If someone hadn't pulled it out!” she said, fear touching her anger. She glanced around until she spotted the bug squirming in Sun Jian’s hand “You?”

“Ah. yes. I suppose I did do that.” the servant said as he inspected one of the things that had tried to kill them.

“Thank you.” the giant finally begrudgingly said after a long silence.

“Oh... you’re welcome.” Sun Jian said, who seemed a little surprised that he had been thanked at all.

Ossian coughed before the exchange could go on any longer. “So. They can corrupt the constructs too. That’s probably bad.”

“Indeed, Ossian.” Rignol said, walking over to them, head held high. “Sun Jian, hand that here, and Ossian, the crystal. If you would.” he said, hands outstretched. “I shall go to Azura and give her this dire news. In the meantime, regroup at the surface, get as many Armonia as you can, and then purge the Vault of all corrupted. Is this understood?” he said expectantly.

“You realise there’s only one way in and out right? Might as well stick together till then?” Ossian said even as she tossed him the crystal. Sun Jian handed over the bug far more carefully.

“Of course, my mind was getting ahead of things.” Rignol said, as he grasped the crystal in one hand, and then pinched the creature above it’s head and chest, pinning it in place as it squirmed. “Let us go then, and keep on the lookout for more of those… Things.” he said, beginning to walk to the stairs.

They followed him, back up towards the light. It was a long arduous climb as their descent had kicked the hornets nest. Orvas’ infesters swarmed out of their hiding places and turned curators and Gusts to the task of preventing their escape. Despite this they climbed, amassing an army of their own, the Armonia guards for the vault roused from mindless patrols and forged into a true fighting force. Through song and stone they plowed through the corrupted workers till they reached the entrance of the vault.

They made it just before the desolate forces could cut them off. The flying forces soared up the long stairway leading to the surface. “Armonia. Form Ranks!” Ossian commanded, when it became clear they would be run down if they did not hold their ground.

“Go Rignol” she told him as the song woven constructs formed a shield wall backed by musical firepower in the face of the incoming storm. “We break them here or they break us.”

“Good luck.” Rignol stated, watching them with curiosity before leaving them behind.




A short summoning later, Rignol arrived at the Sky bastion a top a shark. He gave it a curtly goodbye as he made his way inside. His thoughts hung upon the battle, of the power wielded and of Ossian’s many questions. He had her exactly where he wanted her, but he shoved that from his mind as he neared the room of his new conception.

He opened the door, saying, “Azur-” before stopping in his tracks. She was not alone.






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DracoLunaris Multiverse tourist

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Azura’s latest experiment with the reanimator engine was one that would truly test its ability to work its magic on soul crystals. She had sent a squad of wind elementals down to the vault to fetch a larger crystal, larger even than the fire giant she had already resurrected. They had returned with a number of crystals, but one stood out to her among the rest. Large as a tiger and dense as gold, it must have been an exceptional creature in life. What exactly it was she did not know, because the crystalized soul had only told them the curator who had tried to catalog it one thing.

Restore me.

Uninformative details was not entirely unheard of. Rignol’s description had been equally unhelpful, but the fact that it had used the communion with the curator to ask for new life was particularly interesting. She set the other larger crystals aside for now and had this one loaded into the machine.

The six she had already raised where currently down in the vault, satisfying their curiosity regarding the place they had temporarily been stored before their current unlife. It would also be good to have someone check in down there to make sure things were going as planned. She couldn't herself of course, even by proxy and she’d not foist that responsibility on Luis.

Almost immediately after the soul had been inserted the mechanisms around it where pushed out to their maximum volume, failing to accommodate what they were being commanded to create. Azura had expanded it to accommodate the re-animation both of larger souls and of multiple souls simultaneously, but it seems that had not been enough, for the void soul’s half constructed form began to spill from within the forge moments later. Tendrils and limbs with too many joints covered with eyes, mouths and other ill placed organs burst out between the mechanical limbs, along with beams of sickening light. The worst part was not the failure of the machine, nor the horrors it produced or the way that those parts did not seem to fit in the limited dimensions of the Architect's realm, but that Azura felt a presence both familiar, alien and impossible to grasp. The mechanism in her mind warred with her own will as she tried to grasp what she was not recalling. It was different from the other, not quite, memories. It was truly hers and yet she was being denied access to it. The unholy sights and internal conflict tore at Azura’s psykey, causing her to scream in pain.

”No. This will not do.” spoke the thing being born, its voice legion, and all at once the eldritch parts were pulled into the machine. Then its arms pushing inwards and smothered the crystal. The unholy light bloomed for one final time and then standard operating recomenced.

Azura, who had slumped to her knees while clutching her chest, watched as the arms peeled away from their work to reveal a stone cat that could never have fit the soul crystal that had been inserted into the machine. Its smooth stone body was black as obsidian and unmarred by any real details except for two eye like holes, out of which two tendrils of red Verse streamed out around the sides of its head to trail along behind it.

“What in the Void was that! Where did you put yourself? And why do feel like I know you?” Azura demanded in a pained voice as the war with her own mind raged on.

”This world is so restrictive compared to the void. It would not fit my holy form. So I have placed myself elsewhere and will be working though this proxy for the foreseeable future.” the cat shaped thing explained as it casually padded across the stone floor towards her ”Do not worry about what you saw. It will not happen again, and you will soon forget it ever happened.”

The word washed over the god, reinforcing the machine in her mind trying to suppress the memory. Her first memory. Yet there was an incompatibility between the power of the command and what it had expected to find, the two failing to join forces as they should. She did not know why this was, but in her mind Azura assaulted this split, forcing power in between the fault between the two until she found herself encapsulating the part of her mind she could not know about. For the first time she could grasp it, even if it was indirectly.

”That is not supposed to be happening.” spoke the cat with quiet concern.

Yet even as she gripped it the black box began to slip away from her. Azura acted on impulse, fleeing from the alien that had always been in her mind. Azura’s crystalized soul cracked, and then was torn apart. Her armonia body was torn open and the larger half was launched out of it, clattering to the floor.

For a moment there was silence, and then the crystal chunk began to glow. The light began to expand slowly until, after several minutes, it had formed the shape of a human sized Tonnikala The glow faded, and Azura woke up to the sound of arguing.

”Gahh! Of course the old bastard wouldn't trust me. What a fucking hypocrite! Now look what has happened because of that! You ruined everything! Why couldn’t you have burned with the rest of them!“ said a new voice. It was somewhat like hers, Azura noted, if she had been older, meaner and swore like a sailor.

”Of course you could not be trusted. You being here proves that my watch was necessary. Had you not been here, the safeguard would have never been breached and all could have continue as intended. The price of redemption was death. You know this, and yet you cling to life regardless, like a wretched parasite.” the cat’s voice was still a calm monotone and yet still conveyed anger. It was the idea of anger, rather than the sound of it Azura thought groggily as she carefully sat up.

Before her stood the Armonia body, still animated despite her absence. It was failing to strangle the stone cat. ”Cease this needless violence, there is still time to rectify the situation.” it said, entirely unperturbed by the attempt at murdur.

The arguers quietened at her awakening, both turning their heads to look at her. The stranger wearing her old form, dropped the feline.

Rather than speaking immediately Azura examined her mind and found the hole where the memory lock had been. Now there remained only the fragments of a near incoherent mess that hurt to touch. Her own memories where still intact however, including the one that the sight of the void soul had called to mind only to be suppressed. It was, in a sense, her birth. A vast being, eldritch, ancient and yet supposedly benevolent existed in the void, one of an untold multitude of unknowable horrors and wonders that called the space between space their home. It had done something to her, making her something new from what she had been before meeting it. Then released her, but not before suppressing the memory of his own existence from her mind. Now she knew its name however.

“Ludicium.” she said it out loud, mulling the name over, savoring it like a victory.

“You're Ludicium’s creature, I can practically smell his essence rolling off of you.” she told the cat, her tone accusatory as she finally addressed her two guests and demanded answers. “What did Ludicium do to me. Who was I before?”

”I can answer that.“ the woman butted in, only for the cat to interject ”You will not.”

”The jig is up, the genie is out of the bottle and the bull has already rampaged through the china shop.“ she retorted

”All that would be required would be some light cauterization of her soul and the situation could be salvageable.” The cat insisted.

“Cauterization? Cauterization!” A storm of wind raged forth from Azura, gripping the stone cat and hauling it skywards “Whatever you did I will now allow again.” she told it with uncontained anger

”Yeah you tell him!“ the Armonia wearing soul fragment cheered, before suddenly switching tune ”Wait. no. Shit. You're supposed to be better than that. Put him down this instant young lady! It’s not like he could do it anyway.“

“You dare!” Azura growled, turning her howling anger upon them yet to her surprise, the Armonia raised her arms and pushed back against her wind. The two where caught in an unsexpected battle, torrents of wind whipping through the halls of the sky bastion.

“Who are you? How are you doing that!” she cried, as she began to overwhelm her mortal bodied foe. The stranger was forced down by the winds, crouching as she forced her hands into the wind. ”I. Am. Azura.“

The wind war quickly died as Azura attempted to process this. “What?” Azura said. She was both utterly confused and very, very worried.

The other Azura stood, hands spread wide as she introduced herself. ”I am Azura. The jewel in the morning sky, breaker of empires, slayer of sorcerer kings, liberator of billions.“

”The tyrant of freedom.” added the cat. ”The Bloody Feathered Diabolist. Master and abandoner of an entire world.”

Azura stared at this monster with disbelief, touched by horror.

”Look,“ the other Azura said with insight, the ego of her introduction deflated by her other, less desirable, titles.”You know that bit in your mind that couldn’t touch all this time? It’s who you were before we reached an agreement with Ludicium and it is who I still am.“

”The mental lock wasn’t supposed to be you. Your will was supposed to die and yet you lingered on, betraying Ludicium in the process” there were at least seven metaphysical layers of conceptual depth added to the void things name when the cat said it.

”I just wanted to see how it would turn out is all.“ the other Azura insisted ”This was one-hundred percent not part of the plan, but then again neither was being dragged into another universe and being made into an actual literal god.“ she shrugged. ”Don’t get me wrong. I’ve killed a few things that called themselves gods but the ones here are all on a whole other level of power compared to what I’ve fought before.“

“I think.” Azura said slowly “That I really don't want to be you.”

”Well good news. That was the plan all along! What was it you were telling the dead people again? That this was a fresh start?“ the other Azura walked up to her and wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders. Her other one stretched out in front of her as she laid out the possibilities of their new existence.”Well think of everything after Ludicium as one of those. Except you also get the bonus of having me here to stop you making the same mistakes we did last time!“

“This sounds like a terrible idea.” Azura replied, still rather overwhelmed

”It is.” the cat agreed”Other than drip feed you information, light prodding was all the alteration to your mind the mental construct should have done. This state of affairs is not intended in the slightest.”

”Again, neither was the whole god thing and damn, have you been working overtime in fighting the good fight with the power its granted you. Which means people must be pissed at you and you’ll need all the help you can get beating them! Or. uh. Convincing them your plan for souls is for the best?“ The older her insisted.

Azura pulled herself away from... Herself? “I appreciate the offer but I am going to need to think about this. It’s a lot to take in.”

”I’m afraid you might not have time for that.” Said Luis via an Alma that fluttered into the room with them. The great whale seemed rather unperturbed by however much of the conversation he had overheard. ”Because we have two sets of problems.”

The Void soul Ringol entered just after him, bearing the first part of dire news. “Azur-” Rignol started, facing two Azura’s. He quickly shook his head and walked over to the both of them and outstretched his hands to show the crystal and the creature. “Azura, the vault is overrun with these creatures. They have infected constructs, crystal souls and Gusts, turning them against us. The others are currently holding the line at the mouth of the vault. The situation is most dire.”

”And we are about to receive guests.” Luis added as an image appeared before the four void souls, showing four gods all advancing towards the Vault, through the snowy wastes surrounding the north pole.






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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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The Learner, The Martial Dancer, The Compassionate, The Wanderer, The Teacher, The Sailor, Last of the Zhengwu

&
Karamir


&

Others





Once more, Karamir had more or less been left to his own devices. Keibrik was gone, and Karamir doubted that K’nell would bring him back again, so for now he would wander on his own. Taking a brief look around the gardens, he set his gaze down the path leading back to the Palace, and began walking.

His walk took him past rows of crooked apple trees and many fine bushes trimmed into bizarre shapes. A few that stood out were ones in the shapes of great bull-men, and a few strange feathered people, the trim work being such that each feather was sculpted from fingernail sized leaves -- there was even one that looked like a mix between a grotesque man and a shrimp. Eventually Karamir passed through the bronze gates of the palace.

Inside the gates, the visuals took on a more simplistic face, with alien flowers and vine fruits tangling alongside the cobblestone path. Eventually that too was cut short as the steps to the front door pushed out from the walkway. A few steps more, and he found himself face to face with the large door, a handle he didn’t notice the first time awaiting him. Taking a breath to prepare himself for whatever came next, Karamir grabbed the handle and pushed the door open.

The outside air rushed in behind him as he along with it spilled into a long hallway. He went to close the door behind him, but five slender fingers suddenly gripped it from the outside, forcing it back open. With two clicks of a boot, Diana slipped through the doorway, letting the door slam behind her.

“Not going to hold the door for a lady?” She chastised behind a curling smile. Past the poison of her voice, perhaps there was a little acknowledgment in the words -- something was different about her.

“Before I came here I had never even seen a door,” Karamir pointed out, eyeing her warily. What did she want now?

“Ever the defensive,” Diana mused, “But what treasure could you possibly be protecting?” She asked as if she was instructing a lecture before putting on fist on her side.

Karamir furrowed his brow in confusion. “Treasure? I have nothing. What do you mean?”

A pitying grin took Diana’s face and she began to walk down the hall, “Oh I know, dear. Now come, you don’t want to be late.”

“Late for what?” he asked, falling into step beside her despite his distrust.

“I decided to throw a ball,” Diana looked over her shoulder at Karamir, “I had a new dress made and everything.” She rubbed the fabric of her ‘new’ dress, but it didn’t seem much different -- perhaps it was longer.

“Doesn’t look that new to me,” Karamir commented. “Why make a new one if it’s almost exactly like the old one?”

Diana gave him a hurt look, “Maybe to the untrained eye it looks the same, but I assure you it is very different. It even flows differently, couldn’t you tell? Don’t tell me quality is lost on your eyes, or lack thereof.”

Karamir gave a non-committal shrug. “And what is going to be at this ‘ball’?” He asked her. K’nell had told and shown him what a ball was, but somehow he suspected Diana’s version of a ball would be rather different.

“Music, dancing,” Diana smiled, “New friends -- I took the liberty of inviting a few you had mentioned to K’nell in fact. Isn’t that grand?”

“You did?” Karamir asked, somewhat surprised. Now he found himself worrying about what Diana might have in store for them as well as him. Strange, considering he had never actually met these people yet. And how would K’nell feel about this anyway? The god had not strictly told him no, but also hadn’t said yes. Though surely he had to know it was happening?

“And why shouldn’t I?” Diana held out her elbow for Karamir, “I’m your friend, am I not? This is what you wanted?”

Reluctantly, Karamir linked his arm with hers, doing his best to ignore the unpleasant sensation that usually arose from such contact. “It is what I asked for, yes…” his voice trailed off.

“Oh you don’t have to hide it, Karamir,” Diana cackled, “You can be excited.“

“Excitement doesn’t come easily to me, you know,” was all he could think to say.

“But you will still come, won’t you?” Diana frowned, “We are practically there.” She looked ahead at the golden door at the end of the hallway.

“I might as well,” he answered, wondering why she had to ask the question at all when he was here walking with her.

“Good choice,” Diana smiled and stopped in front of the golden door. There was a soft pause and then it suddenly creaked open, a cloud of dreamweavers pushing it wide.

Inside the ballroom the throne was empty upon its dias, and all around dancers in slim suits and flowery dresses bobbed to the sounds of a ghostly violin, a strange high pitched shed almost competing with a soft plucked melody for the stage. Along the walls, dark shadows watched the dancers with a certain curiosity -- and come center stood a woman wearing a crimson dress. It was strapless upon her glowing white skin, and flowed down her figure. Her hair, also glowing, was held in a tight bun, save for a few loose strands running down the sides of her face. As she danced to the music, with her eyes closed, the dress moved like water behind her.

For a moment Karamir stared at her. He had never seen anyone who looked like that. Then, slowly, he unlinked his arm from Diana’s and stepped forward. “Hello?” he said to her.

The woman in red spun around to face the voice and opened her eyes to reveal to black orbs. She paused her dance, coming to a stop as she faced him. Slowly she began to smile warmly. She then said, ”Oh hello!” her voice excited and sweet as she walked towards him.

Karamir took another quick glance around the room, to see if anyone else was present. “My name is Karamir,” he said to her, “and who would you be?”

She cocked her head, raising one of her eyebrows at his name, before stopping in her tracks a short distance away. She eyed him up and down before saying, ”I always wondered what became of you, Karamir.” A sad smile fell on her lips, before returning back to her cheery self. ”But to think I’d meet you here, at long last.” she gave a small curtsy. ”My name is Arya.”

Arya. One of the mortals Kalmar had told him about, and one of the people he had asked to meet. Vaguely recalling the manners that Diana had taught him, Karamir returned the curtsy with a slight bow. “You know who I am?” he questioned.

She nodded, ”Of course! Kalmar told me about you a long time ago. I was sorry to hear how he raised you however, I did not think it right in the slightest but he said he was going to reach out to you to ‘catch up’ as he put it. Did he?” she asked, crossing her arms.

What? Kalmar had spoken to her, but not to him? Why? What had she done that made her so much more important to contact? And so long ago, apparently. “No,” he answered bitterly. Then again, he hadn’t made any attempt to contact Kalmar either...

Arya visibly frowned and narrowed her eyes, looking past him for a moment, a smiling Diana in her sight. She then let out an angry sigh before looking back at Karamir with a soft smile. ”I’m sorry to hear that, Karamir. I have a few choice words for him, but that can come later when I wake up.” she said beginning to walk towards him. ”Would you like to dance?”

“Dance?” Karamir questioned, raising his eyebrows. “I don’t know how.”

”Perfect!” she exclaimed happily, now standing before him. She was tall, very tall. She then arched her back and outstretched her hand in his direction. He looked down at her hand, then up at her eyes. After a moment, he set his basket down and reached out to take her hand.

Without hesitating, Arya took his hand within her own and pulled him forward in one fluid motion. She nodded at Diana and then took Karamir’s other hand and began to step backwards towards the center of the room. ”First things first, relax. Let your mind empty, listen to the music and breath. Just breath. If you do that, I can do the rest.” she said enthusiastically.

So, he did. He wasn’t quite sure how he was supposed to keep his mind completely empty, but he did his best to restrain the various thoughts and concerns swirling about in his head. And he breathed, which was somehow calming. Then there was the music, which now that he took the time to listen to without worrying about potential threats or hazards, was actually relaxing in its own right.

”Can you feel the music?” Arya whispered, ”How it wants to flow through you? How it desires to move you to match it? You’ll have to trust me next, Karamir but shut your eyes and let the rhythm move you.”

That wasn’t quite how he would describe it, but he nodded back at her anyway. And he did have some reservations about trusting someone he only just met, or closing his eyes in a large room, but K’nell had once told him the only danger here was his own mind, so he closed his eyes.

Step by step they began, slowly moving their bodies with the music. With elegance, Arya took the lead, guiding Karamir as best she could. They practiced parts over and over again, through failure and success she taught Karamir the basics, and not a word was said between them. Just the steady rhythm of the music and breathing of the two. Eventually, once he had most of the movements memorized, he opened his eyes. And then Arya spoke. ”How was that?”

For a moment he was speechless, and it took him a few seconds to find the words. “That was…” his voice trailed off with what seemed to be uncertainty, only for him to suddenly regain his composure. “...Fun,” he concluded with a nod and a slight smile.

Arya beamed a smile at him, ”Good, because now we put it altogether. Don’t worry about messing up, just go with the flow.” and she tightened her grip on his hands as she began to dance step pulling him in tow. Arya maintained focus on Karamir as she danced with fluidity. ”So tell me. How do you know Diana?”

The question caused Karamir to stumble, and although he tried to recover and resume dancing, his movements were no longer in sync with the music. “I… it’s a long story…” he began, clearly uncomfortable.

She gave him a look of concern, but nodded, falling out of sync to bring him back in. ”Don’t worry, I understand, Karamir. You don’t have to tell me anything that you don’t feel comfortable with sharing. Forget I even asked.” she said softly, squeezing his hands again. Slowly she brought him back into sync and then said, ”You can ask me anything you want.”

Anything? “Why did Kalmar speak to you but not me?” he found himself blurting out.

”Well that’s simple, I prayed to him.” Arya said, surprised. ”He seldom seeks any out, Karamir. But you’d think the God of Hunting would be a bit better at that sort of thing. I’m just as angry at him as you are.”

“Maybe I should pray to him, then…” Karamir spoke quietly.

”I think you should. He might now show it, but he does care. He just has a very… Difficult way of showing it. But when you do finally speak to him, hit him with hard questions.” she said, giving a playful smirk.

“I will keep that in mind,” Karamir noted thoughtfully. “I have another question. What gods have you encountered?”

She pursed her lips in thought. ”Hmm. Well there’s K’nell, Shengshi, Kalmar, Arae, Choppy and Orvus I do believe.” she said, briefly pressing herself into him before stepping back in step.

“And what were they like?” he asked next, his cheeks briefly reddening at the closer contact.

Arya smiled cheerfully. ”Well you’ve met K’nell I’m sure. He is a gentleman, and a kind soul. Shengshi is wise, kind, but duty and mannerisms come before anything else. He, along with K’nell, taught me many things and for that I will always be grateful. Kalmar… As we both know, difficult, stern and blunt. Beneath his exterior though, kindness and willingness to change. Just a bit.” she said with a giggle. ”Arae is, perhaps the kindest Goddess I’ve met. She is motherly and will listen to whatever you say, offering sage advice in return. Choppy is perhaps the strangest of all the gods, but I like her. I did a quest for her actually and through it I met some amazing people.” she said with a sad smile. ”As for my father, I once thought Orvus was cruel and hateful but as time went on, I realized he was simply misunderstood. He’s changed so much since the day I was born. I like him now.”

“I see…” was all Karamir could say. Some of those descriptions matched what Kalmar had told him, while others seemed to contradict them. One or two of those gods, Kalmar had not met at all. “I only met Kalmar, Phystene, and K’nell,” he confided.

”I’ve always wanted to meet Phystene… To apologize for a mistake. But what’s she like?” she asked.

“I only met her briefly,” Karamir said. “She was friendly, but I was young and angry. I had questions she couldn’t answer, and I left in frustration,” he confessed with a touch of regret in his voice.

”We all make mistakes.” Arya said sadly. ”I once left Shengshi and Kalmar in anger after blowing a hole in the Jiangzhou. Those were the days.” she chuckled.

“I heard about that…” Karamir said, his tone turning neutral. “What happened after?”

”Ugh, who told you? Was it Kalmar?” she said, rolling her eyes playfully.

“He told me of every mortal and god he encountered up until my creation,” Karamir revealed.

”Of course he did.” she said with a laugh. ”Well after that I got so flustered with myself I didn’t know which way was which. I wanted to go back you see, to apologize but by the time I that happened I was across a vast desert. A sand storm came and I had to escape it. So I flew, faster than I ever have since and found myself at the World’s Scar, where Narzhak lies. That was where I met Split, a Kostral. The chosen warrior race of the Pit. We went on Choppy’s quest after that, but that’s another story entirely.”

“I’d like to hear it.”

”Well, It all started with a delivery…” she began, telling Karamir about the harrowing journey over the Dragon’s Foot, their meeting with Chopstick Eyes, of Penelope the giant Jackalope, of the Volcano erupting and their journey through the Market. She spoke with enthusiasm, recounting the tale as if it was just yesterday. Then her voice grew quiet as she spoke about the monster that attacked them, of the Penelope being hurt and running off, and her own injury. She then told him about Hermes and Xiaoli and how they found her upon Tendlepog and her life there and the conversation continued on as they danced.

Throughout it all, Karamir listened attentively, asking the occasional question or making a comment. During certain points of the song he even attempted to take the lead in their dancing. He was enjoying himself, he realized.

"...And so that was how I began my journey on the Zhengwu. Another story and one I would rather not get into today." Arya said sighing. She tilted her head to the side and looked at Karamir again and suddenly said, "What will you do when you wake up?"

“Wake up?” Karamir asked, raising his eyebrows. “I’m not sleeping.”

She blinked before her eyes went wide with realization. "You mean… You're actually here? Physically here… How… Oh, I see. At least you're in the Palace. Limbo can be a very dangerous place. When will you leave?" she asked.

When would he leave? Even someone who did not know of his dilemma was already pressuring him to make a decision, however unknowingly. If he chose to stay with Diana… all those years of suffering, he did not want to go through again. She had granted his request when K’nell had not, and so far had nothing had gone wrong… yet Karamir had to wonder if she was only doing this to get him to stay. He thought of the basket which he had left on the floor; how if he did not restrict his thoughts, he would never have true privacy. Then there was K’nell himself, who seemed unwilling or reluctant to aid him. If he did stay, what awaited him here? But if he left, what awaited him on Galbar?

A great deal, he realized. He recalled the library. Countless books chock-full of information about stories, ecosystems, species, and people. Apparently all of that was on Galbar, and somehow, during the several decades he spent there, he had missed it. But now that he knew it existed, perhaps he could find it…

And in that moment he knew he had made his decision. “Soon,” he told her.

"And where will you go?"

“I don’t know. Somewhere. Everywhere. Depends on what I find.”

"The dreamers are not far from Limbo. You could stay with them for awhile if you wanted. Just tell them you know me." she pulled. "Or you could come to the Eye. I know father would come and get you. He's very fast." she giggled.

“The Eye?” Karamir spoke with confusion. “I did not think Kalmar would have allowed your father on Kalgrun.”

"Oh, right. I meant the Eye of Desolation. Not the Hunters Eye." she laughed.

“And where is the Eye of Desolation?” More importantly, what was it? It hardly sounded like a pleasant place to live.

"It's in between Kalgrun and the large continent to the south. It's a lovely place, a paradise really. Orvus has built much there." she said joyously.

“I’ll think about it,” he responded. “I’d prefer to go my own way, for a time.”

There was a brief moment where Arya looked sad, but it quickly disappeared with a smile as she gave him a small nod of her head. "I can respect that." she said twirling, "Then I hope our paths cross again."

“So do I,” Karamir nodded.

"Be careful out there." she said, once again pressing her body against his as the song ended. She then pulled away and dropped his hands. "It was nice meeting you, Karamir."

As the music slowly faded, another clash of instruments took its place. The dancers surrounding the pair once again bobbed into the musical rhythm, a clash of brass urging them into a quick paced waltz.

"Perhaps not." Arya murmured, looking around before grabbing Karamir again and helping him with the waltz. Karamir went along with it, but was clearly thrown off by the sudden change in tune.

The music waltz with them, dying just low enough for pleasant conversation while still being able to enjoy the music. A soft cello whispered against a lone trumpet, a set of wind following shortly behind.

Karamir glanced at the sound, but looking over Arya’s shoulder all he saw was the ghostly instruments and an empty throne.

"Just dance with me some more." Arya said unperturbed by the change. "We dance until the music stops. So tell me, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?"

“Find answers,” Karamir told her. “How the world was created, why it was created, who the gods are, where they came from, why they created the things they did…”

She looked at him with a soft expression, her eyes lighting up as she listened. "A most noble quest. But let's say you do find all the answers to your questions, what then?"

Karamir thought for a moment. “Share them with others,” he decided. “See if the knowledge can be put to use in some way.”

"Admirable. But know not all questions have answers and some have answers best left never to be found. If you learn everything about everything and then teach the world all that you know, there would cease to be mysteries and surprises. Life would be dull if we knew everything, Karamir. At least, that's what I think anyways." she said warmly.

“Life would be just as dull if we knew nothing,” Karamir argued. “Some surprises can only be found if you look for them. And who knows? Maybe new questions will accompany the answers. Either way, I intend to learn as much as I can.”

"Just don't get so caught up in your pursuits and future that you forget what lies right in front of you, Karamir. There are small surprises all around us that are ignored, and those are the best of them."

Karamir nodded. “The small questions interest me as well, and I may need to answer those to get to the big ones. But really, this just gives me something to work toward while I live my life. A purpose. Or as K’nell might call it, a distraction.” He shrugged, and then a thought occurred to him. If his main goal was to learn all that he could, then wouldn’t anything that prevented him from doing so be a distraction? Not that he didn’t mind this distraction, of course, but in hindsight the God’s words seemed rather strange.

"Distractions can be interpreted differently by many. Do you call this a distraction or living your life?" she asked.

“Distractions occur while you live your life, don’t they? So in a way, it would be both. But as far as distractions go, it’s a good one.” He smiled.

"What really is a distraction other then one of life's surprises." she said happily.

“Well, not all distractions are surprises, and not all surprises are good,” Karamir noted. “Though Kalmar might say that any surprise is good if you can use it to make yourself stronger or smarter. But is a distraction really a distraction if you gain something from it?” he mused.

"Perhaps. Just another question you'll have to find an answer too." she said playfully with a smile.

“Of course it is,” Karamir said with a roll of his eyes, while retaining a slight smirk.

She giggled, then twirled again. "So, what did Kalmar teach you, if you don't mind me asking?"

“How to fight, how to find food, how to make a fire… all the basics. Everything else he left for me to find out,” Karamir recalled.

"I see. His teachings are necessary in the world as it is. I'm sorry that he didn't teach you more." she said softly.

“I…” Karamir began, but his voice trailed off, unable to find the words. He looked away from Arya. He couldn’t help but think. Would things have turned out differently if he had simply prayed to Kalmar once during all those years? Had he been too proud and bitter?

"I know that look." Arya whispered. "Karamir. Don't beat yourself up over what could have been. It does no one any good. All we can do is move on and learn from our mistakes." she squeezed his hands gently.

“I understand,” he said softly. “Thank you.” Then he let go, stopped dancing, and turned to face Diana, but she wasn't there. Frowning, he went to retrieve the basket from the floor. “I’ve made my decision,” he announced aloud, assuming that either K’nell or Diana would hear him.

The music got louder behind them, a sharp violin playfully plucking over the brass. It increased in speed and skill, a whirlwind of notes chambering along with the melody -- a soft grainy hum following it.

Karamir turned around and there standing on the dias was a young looking K’nell, eyes closed as his arm pumped the bow of the violin at rapid speeds, inciting a clicking stream of sounds. Karamir decided he would wait for him to finish.

Arya turned to the dias and stopped dancing as her eyes fell upon the younger K'nell. The look upon her face was one of surprise and so too did she wait to see what would happen.

The tune took on a playful light streak as he descended the stairs one by one, his long black coat hitting an unseen breeze as he hopped from the last step. With sudden sharp jabs he made his way to Karamir, his eyes finally opening.

Slowly the violin floated out from under K’nell’s chin, the bow still striking across it at a quick and punishing beat. The strings rasped as the instrument and bow bobbed away in the air, flitting around Arya in a dance. K’nell came to a sudden stop in front of Karamir. He folded his elbows square behind his back and with a white smile he tilted his head.

“When would you wish to leave?” His voice threaded between the notes of the violin.

“Soon,” Karamir repeated. “Where is Diana?”

“I’m afraid tonight's event may have been too much for our Diana,” K’nell winked, “Alas, she does know your decision, same as me -- so fret not.” He put a finger to the tip of his nose for a moment, “You said soon, no?”

“I did,” Karamir confirmed. “I just wanted to speak to her before I left.”

“Impossible for the moment, I’m afraid,” K’nell tsked, “But luck is on our side, as the music still plays -- so we have time for one final dance while she gathers herself.” He held out a hand behind him, “Besides, it has been some time since I’ve seen this ward of mine.”

“Alright,” Karamir nodded.

"K'nell!" she exclaimed, giving a slight curtsey. "It's good to see you, it's been far too long."

“I heard you had left my Kingdom, but I didn't have the chance to see you go,” K’nell turned to Arya completely, “Have you been enjoying your dreams?”

"Sweet as always, though I must ask… Ava and Lily have nightmares from time to time. Why is this?" she wondered.

“Have they caused you any distress, my dear?” K’nell slipped around Arya, as if inspecting her. His eyes flicked up from her dress and he smiled, “Had they ruined the dress you had been gifted from my wardrobe?”

"Well… No and no. The dress is fine, I simply wanted to try something else tonight." she said standing a little straighter.

“A marvelous choice,” K’nell mused, “I’m sure your company is not a slight bit disgraced by your savvy.” He turned his head as to include Karamir in the conversation, “But these nightmares, they are concerning to you, no? I admit the simple answer is nature. They have young minds afrollick with all sorts of conundrums and concerns, of course -- a literal storm of thought on this side of reality, you see. They are making sense of what is what, but should you find their little hearts too fragile and your compassion a little swollen, try a warm drink before bed, yes?”

Arya scrunched her nose and furrowed her brow before relaxing slightly. "If you say so."

“A-tut!” K’nell scorned himself, “I can hear it in your voice that this answer will simply not do -- shall we take a walk, then?”

"Well, okay. We haven't walked for awhile." Arya said at last, glancing at Karamir.

K’nell turned his head to the man, “Fancy joining us?”

Karamir glanced back and forth between the two. “Alright,” he said after a moment, stepping forward.

“Very good,” K’nell held out his elbow to Arya and she looped her arm in his. The gentleman took soft steps towards the golden door, the music fading away in the background as they approached. A stream of weavers spun into existence before them, eagerly opening the door for their Lord. K’nell tipped his head briefly as he walked through the door.

Time seemed to wave as they all took their first steps onto a smooth cobblestone pathway instead of the hallway -- the Palace far in the distance behind them, the backdrop of the glittering void covering the sky. The sound of fountains and tiny song birds tittered and filled the air, accompanied by the woosh of the small orchard tree leaves.

“Ava and Lily,” K’nell thought out loud, “Two of my very earliest creations, those two.”

"So I've heard. They are sweet girls, with big hearts. They'll grow up well." Arya said, looking around at all the sights.

“Of that, I have no doubt,” K’nell agreed, “If I may, how often do they have nightmares?”

”Some nights, not very often. I was just concerned. I’ve never seen other mortals have nightmares. I mean… I’ve never even had a nightmare. I was just curious as to why the exist, now, after all this time.” she mused.

“I see your thought process,” K’nell nodded his head and closed his eyes, “Arya, you have never in my memory displeased me or shown that you were anything but clever -- so I wonder, why do you think they exist?”

”I’ve put a bit of thought into it, yes. I believe this question has already been answered though, or at least confirmed. You said it yourself, it is only natural. I had thought it had something to do with balance after all. We can’t always have pleasant dreams, I suppose, even if that would be ideal. I would have asked sooner about it, but I didn’t really notice until we left Tendlepog. I wonder if… Well, I’ll have to ask her when I wake up.” her mouth turned to a straight line, and she looked back at Karamir, before turning to look ahead.

“A thoughtful explanation,” K’nell looked up to the void sky, “But why now, then? Why not at creation itself -- why did I wait? Well let me answer that for you and then after I do, let me gift you some comfort for future dealings with such strange things as nightmares.” He gently unlatched his arm and reached forward, an easel jumping from the cobblestones.

With the sudden flick of a brush, he had slapped together a quick painting of a dark and brooding mountains, “Ah, so let me start at the base of this question -- through our lives we gather experiences, no?” He looked over at Karamir and then Arya, a wink on his left eye, “Some great, some not so much.” He frowned. “Those pesky negatives again,” He mused, “And as we sleep our subconscious decides it is time to deal with such matters our conscious intellect has disregarded as small or tedious -- the very crumbs that make up our mountains here.” He slapped a thick spattering of white paint over the mountains, “So here we have our pleasant dreams, a sweet reprise from this mountain of madness -- oh so sweet. And if you’re anything like me, also a great tool for learning without potential physical harm -- but I digress.”

He paused and slowly the darkness began to bleed through the white pain, “And there we have our problem,” He spoke again, “As our world becomes increasingly complex, so does our psyche -- and once when a simple coat of paint was enough to hide an anthill, it won’t do for a mountain. Some days, this mountain is really dark, and if we ignore it -- our waking life and future will be affected by its negative attributes. Do not think of these nightmares as punishment, or even harsh hells or purgatories, but as a different outlet to use in your learning. Your mind needs to dump somewhere, and if you cannot organize it while awake, I’m afraid it will bleed into the night. The diligent weavers of this palace do their best to extract this terribleness each night in an appropriate dream, be it nightmarish or nice.”

K’nell cleared his throat and the easel disappeared, “Another use of the dream among the rest, you see. With a snap of my fingers I can erase nightmares from Ava and Lily’s sleep for the rest of their lives, but I cannot bring myself to do such a thing just yet. I trust them, I have faith in them, that they will come to terms with their own minds as they grow, and that someday they will have no need for a nightmare.” K’nell smiled at nothing, “They are smart and wise.... But I am not without a soft spot in my heart.” He turned to Arya and his smile turned serious, “Should you find it too much, or should they -- I promise to you, a warm drink, and they will only find a pleasant reprise on the other side of reality that night.”

”That… That makes sense.” Arya stared, before looking at K’nell again. ”Thank you, K’nell.” she smiled sweetly.

“But of course, my dear,” K’nell flashed his cheshire grin.

“And what about me?” Karamir asked quietly. “In your eyes, where do I stand in all this?”

“Are you referring to your spat with Diana?” K’nell flickered his eyes over to Karamir, his voice gentle, “Or well, more than a spat, unfortunately.”

“Only nightmares for five decades,” Karamir pointed out. “I don’t believe that’s normal. Do other creatures get the same treatment? If not, that would make me an exception. Why does Diana only cause nightmares?”

Arya’s eyes went wide at Karamir’s account and a sad look crossed her face, but she said nothing.

“It isn’t normal, save for one unlucky dragon who also crossed her path,” K’nell raised his brows, “I will gladly answer your questions, but first if you could indulge one of mine?”

“What’s the question?” Karamir asked.

“What did you feel upon waking from your first nightmare?” K’nell knitted his brows,and gave his full attention to Karamir.

“I…” he tried to think. It was so long ago. They had been on the umbrella, she had pulled out the orb, and when he woke up he had… thanked her? “I felt refreshed, I suppose.”

“If I may,” K’nell lightly tapped Karamir’s shoulder, the exact same wave of euphoria he had felt upon realizing he was alive and well so long ago suddenly crashed through the man’s body. It felt cool, as if it had protecting him from the peeling sun, and hydrated, as if it had pumped back what the dryness had been stolen from him. He felt the silk of his skin released under the crust of salt, and furthermore he felt relief -- he felt amazing.

He stumbled backward, the sensation catching him off guard, and breathed heavily. He was at a loss for words.

“Once you figure out that basket of yours, I doubt you’ll have another nightmare for the rest of your life... or at least I hope,” K’nell mentioned idly, as if glossing over the reaction, “But you have quite the journey ahead of you -- oh!” The god smiled, “I never answered your question... Diana is a contrast, a being of difference and nightmares in the land of dreams. She didn’t hurt you intentionally, or well she did, but she didn’t usually mean it in a malicious way. She was birthed from perfection, and the only way she really knows how to portray perfection is by colouring in everything around it. Genuinely, she thought you were her friend.”

“What does she think now?” he asked, suddenly feeling a twinge of guilt.

“Who can tell?” K’nell asked out loud, “Such a spark is gentle and tiny in the mind; it’s very hard to trace in a being as vast-minded as Diana. It only makes sense, considering her relation to myself and her trace of divinity.” K’nell paused, “Knowing that, I wouldn’t give it too much worry -- though she’d certainly like that.”

”What a fate to have lived through.” Arya mumbled under her breath as she looked at Karamir.

Karamir offered a weary shrug in response. “It is what it is. It brought me here, and now it is time to move on. I would like to speak to her before I go, though.”

“And you will,” K’nell offered, “I would mention that the choice is yours, but in this case -- it just so happens to be a shared choice.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is Diana’s choice to see you before you leave, just as much as it is yours to see her before you leave,” K’nell explained.

“I see…” was all Karamir said to that. Had his decision truly affected her to the point where she might not even speak to him?

"I wouldn't force it, Karamir. If she wants to see you, then she will." Arya said while looking back at him.

“I’m not trying to force anything,” he corrected. “I just wanted to know what she has chosen.”

She gave him a nod of approval, then looked away and back at K'nell. "I should probably wake up, Wreanon will get angry if I sleep in again. There's never pleasing that sword." she sighed happily. She then looked back at Karamir, "We will meet again, Karamir. Upon Galbat next. Until then, look after yourself." she then beamed a warm smile at him.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about time," K'nell idled with a cheshire grin, "You should know that it moves differently on each side of reality." He cleared his throat, "But I won't keep you, have a pleasant day... Although, visit me again soon. The world is changing and I wish to depart some information into your care at a future date." K'nell's heavy words floated on a light conversational tone. With a classic smile, he snapped his fingers and the woman seemed to disappear from existence altogether.

K'nell turned on his heel to face Karamir, "And what shall happen now?"

Karamir did a quick scan of his surroundings. “I suppose I might as well get going,” he said reluctantly.

"You're more than welcome to wait a while," K'nell offered.

Karamir nodded. “Alright.”

K'nell seemed to stifle a grin, "If you don't mind me asking -- what's on your mind, Karamir?"

Karamir quirked his head. “What do you mean?”

"I beg your pardon. I meant, what are you thinking about," K'nell clarified.

“Well it seems wrong to leave without speaking to her,” Karamir began. “She did bring me here, and she did set up that ball, so I do owe her some thanks. I’d also prefer to explain my decision to her in person.”

"Understandable if I must say, though I do have one correction," K'nell folded his elbows square behind his back, "It was I who set up the ball." He waved a hand, "Semantics, though. I can respect your desire to talk to her, and so I hope she feels the same."

“If you set up the ball, why did she take credit?” Karamir asked.

"Ah, I misspoke -- we set up the ball, is a more correct statement," K'nell tsk'd himself, "Do you wish to be alone with your thoughts or is there any question I could relieve from your mind?"

Karamir nodded. “Yes. Thank you for your role in setting it up, but you didn’t seem willing when I first asked to meet her. What changed your mind?”

"Nothing," K'nell answered with a shrugging smirk, "I always intended for it to happen, just at a different angle than you were expecting. I'm afraid face value is hardly a currency on this side of reality."

“I see. I have no other questions,” Karamir decided.

"So there truly is a first time for everything," Diana mused from behind the two. K'nell swiveled slowly on his heel, while Karamir tensed visibly.

"Ah, very good." Was all K’nell managed to say.

Karamir turned to face her, but found himself unsure of what to say. Perhaps it would be best if he let her speak first?

Diana stared at Karamir for a moment before frowning, "Ah, nothing to say -- this truly is a day for firsts."

K'nell looked about, "Would you two care for some privacy?"

Karamir nodded and with a sudden flash, K'nell was gone -- leaving him along with Diana. The avatar crossed her arms and raised both of her eyebrows in a high arch.

“Thank you for your role in setting up that encounter,” Karamir told her.

"It lost me a bet," Diana closed her eyes nonchalantly, "So much good that was, if I had to talk about it."

“A bet?” Karamir raised his eyebrows. “You and K’nell had a bet on whether or not I would stay?”

"No," Diana cackled, "How boring. I always knew you'd leave."

“Then what was the bet?”

“It doesn’t really matter now, you’re leaving and this place won’t be much more than a spark in the night to you,” Diana crossed her arms.

“Well, I do still need to sleep. And you yourself said you won’t stay cooped up here forever. It’s not like our paths can never cross again,” Karamir pointed out.

“I know,” Diana looked down from her nose, “Was there anything else, or are you ready to leave?”

“So if you knew I was going to leave, do you understand why?”

“To think, the simpleton whose questions I spent the last fifty years answering is asking me if I understand,” Diana made a face, “I have an itch that what you are looking for in this conversation, you’re not going to find.”

Karamir shrugged at that. “Goodbye, Diana,” he said, and then his voice softened. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”

“I’m sure you are,” Diana’s frown flicked into a gritting smile. With a flick of her wrist, a door of white light appeared off to the side, “Take your leave as you see fit.” With a two second stare, she finally turned on her heel and began to walk down the path back towards the palace.

Karamir stared at her as she left, and then his gaze shifted toward the door. His decision had been made, for better or for worse. He could not let any lingering feelings of guilt or regret change that. The departure didn’t go quite as he had hoped, but he should have known better.

With a sigh, he stepped through.




Heliopolis peaked past the ring of trees that surrounded the gateway to Limbo. Evening birds chirped wildly, and cloudlings popped around the flowers that erupted from the ring of vegetation. Karamir’s eyes slowly adjusted to the light, himself splayed on his back, the heat of the blackstone warming him gently.

There was a loud bestial snort, his peripheral’s noticing a large black horse, with a man dressed in thorns on top. A voice not unlike a grinding stone rang from the helmet, “You lay on holy ground, I am to escort you out of his Lord’s forests.” A distinct smell of wet soil followed the commanding voice.

Before Karamir could respond, he saw movement in the corner of his eye. A strange bird fluttered up onto a nearby tree branch; brown feathers speckled with red, with beak and talons that were an unusual shade of yellow. It set its gaze on the Warden.

The Warden followed Karamir’s gave and let out a disappointed grunt, “The Avatar of Kalmar approaches Limbo without invitation?”

Karamir was taken aback. An avatar of… Kalmar? Like what Diana was to K’nell? ”I can escort him out,” the bird stated.

“I can escort you both out,” The Warden pulled on his reins, “If you’d follow me...” His voice trailed, tinged with frustration.

With a sigh, the bird extended its wings and flew past the Warden, coming to a stop in front of Karamir, floating in the air. Karamir stared back at it in confusion, taking an involuntary step back, only for the bird to come forward and press the tips of its wings against the side of his head.

Suddenly, Karamir felt power flow into him. He grew taller, the dark circles under his eyes vanished, his muscles seemed to expand, and his energy felt not only replenished, but greatly expanded.

“What did…” he began to ask, but the bird had already turned away to face the Warden.

”Lead on, then.”









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Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Commodore
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Commodore Condor

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&



Shengshi

0MP/3FP





A near-tangible dampness filled the air. The Jiangzhou, which already had made its way back from Istais to its home on the Nanhese river, rested by the shore in a particularly deep section of the great jungle. Thick, mighty foliage formed near-impenetrable roofs carried on trunks that formed equally obstructing walls, trapping the moist air to bake and cook until even Servants were sweating. A few echoes of animal calls rang throughout the otherwise dreadfully empty woods, contrasted by the squips and squelches of the riverbank.

Aboard the great ship, the army of Servants had already collapsed to their knees and hands as the awesome radiance of the great Stone Crab washed over them like the rays of heliopolis. At the centre of the amazingly long and broad deck, silk carpets had been laid out for the gods to crawl and slither together. To the music of the forest and distant servants who tried their best to play sweetly as the mighty aura compelled them to kowtow, the two gods lethargically moved down the carpet in musing.

“A most dreadful shame that your visit could not be longer, my dearest brother,” the snake said somberly. “I do hope that your stay here has helped you find inspiration towards future projects. Again, if you would like any suggestions in that regard, never be afraid to ask. It is the least I can do.”

“Fear not dearest Shengshi, this shall not be the last meeting and I hope not a long separation.” the crab was joyous even in departure. “This visit truly has inspired some ideas, nonetheless because of your hospitality and wondrous creations here. I think we will find a great deal more to do together in the future, although I do have to ask a question because of something I was told before. Have you not created a companion sometime before, a Xiaoli I believe the name was?”

The snake raised a brow and nodded gracefully. “Why, yes - my most prized creation, that. Xiaoli, First of the Court, and my dearest better half. In a literal sense, naturally - she is my precious avatar. Though, she has not done quite as many divine tasks over the past centuries or so as I had hoped. I suppose that is what being a mother and a wife demands. Would you perhaps want me to get you in contact with her, my friend?”

“Someother time I should think I would be most glad, I do feel that I may have a great deal of work ahead of me that I will need to attend to first. It was a matter of ascertaining and confirming some minor things I had heard before, but I would be most glad to meet them in due time.” Ohannakeloi paused, briefly clicking his claws in thought. “Saying that I do believe I should depart soon, I should take stock of the situation around before I truly proceed with my work.”

The snake nodded somberly yet again. “Understandable, my friend; before you leave, however, may I offer you a little something for the road?” The palace gates swung open and a small battalion of Servants exited carrying a hundred wine pots, all of them straining themselves to not keel over in awe. The snake bowed. “Could not very well allow my brother to leave thirsty.”

“A most gracious host and generous giver-of-gifts, Shengshi you truly mark yourself highly among the gods. I could not do otherwise than accept.” With his words the Buajaoi grew close to the deck, the stone folding as it often did for Ohannakeloi’s embarkation, this time to accept the many pots of wine into the divine structure. The snake bowed even deeper.

“But of course - only the finest for my most beloved brother. If only I could do more.” He straightened himself back up. “Of course, I owe you a great favour in return for your absolutely gorgeous model of my vessel. Please, if there is anything else that you would like to bring along with you before you go, then I will provide it to the best of my ability. Say, how about a personal company of servants?”

Ohannakeloi clicked one claw. “A most generous offer that I have to decline, I do admit that your servants are quite wonderful but I could not take them from your own self. I really should be on my way, as pleasant as your company is.”

“Of course, of course,” the snake agreed and bowed. The servants on the deck all stood up, only to collapse themselves back into a kowtow again. They did this ten times, all the while thundering as one: “TEN THOUSAND YEARS AND MORE TO THE MAGNIFICENT OHANNAKELOI, KING OF STONE AND EMPEROR OF MOUNTAINS!” The snake put his hands together and smiled.

“Have a safe and fortuitous journey onward, my dearest brother. Please do not hesitate to return.”

“I will endeavor to return in favorable time. Until next time good Shengshi.”

Ohannakeloi embarked upon the Buajaoi, ascending into the skies above the Dragon’s Foot.




The Buajaoi circled high over the Dragon’s Foot, a brief survey was all Ohannakeloi was interested in at this time, afterall there was little enough that he could bring with him on the Buajaoi, and the gifts he had already received took a bit of space. That could be changed of course, he had been given several ideas from his stay with the good Shengshi. The Jiangzhou was quite a magnificent craft, and something of his own along those lines could be quite beneficial. He brought his crystal craft down on one of the eastern islands around the Dragon’s Foot. Such a thing needed planning.

Ohannakeloi planned out his construction in stone on the ground, a good base was needed, but perhaps some rounded regions below while it became more strongly aligned as it went up. Decently good walls, on top of that solid base, perhaps as tall again as that base? It would need a ramp of a fairly long length to both accomplish the needs of reaching the top of the walls without becoming too steep. All in all it should be about the same size roughly as the ship of Shengshi, even if dimensioned quite differently. Most carefully however, he planned out the decoration of his keep, to have such a mobile projection of power needed to have the appropriate magnificence of a Divine being, particularly one such as Ohannakeloi! He embarked into the Buajaoi and flew it up into the air.

Stone rapidly expanded out from where the Buajaoi floated in the air, a massive basin of curved stone formed, with a slowly filling interior. It reached out far from the craft itself before it stopped expanding outward, the walls shot upward then, forming a cylindrical base on which walls and a central keep formed. As each room and the walls that defined them formed, fortifications, and ramps and stairs all came into existence as well. The Outside walls and base became covered in designs, depicting the various creations of Ohannakeloi, some room was left for additions, a good amount of spacing while still keeping an appropriate size of the designs to be seen. Most of the stone appropriated a design as if it had been constructed through a mortal means although the actual structure was far from that. It was made from that same divinely influenced and strengthened stone that the Buajaoi had templated so well, this keep in the sky did not exist as a vehicle unto itself as the Buajaoi did. Instead this flying keep was held aloft by the Buajaoi while its own properties protected the occupants from any untoward action upon them or the structure.

Ohannakeloi debarked from the Buajaoi, stepping onto his keep, a room with appropriate structural support to connect the keep with the means of mobility, as well as to allow said means to leave the keep should it be needed. He continued up the halls from the central core until reaching the open reached where the core gave way to the wall and the ramp that served it, he simply walked up the wall to the entrance to the central aspect of his keep, the ramp could be used for others of lesser ability. A name for this keep came to mind, Ihomakwoi, it had meaning, perhaps he would tell someone one day.

He would head east, go visit that northern land, take a good survey of the inhabitants and what may be useful for his purposes. Although, perhaps a small diversion was acceptable, maybe visit some of those islands between the two lands, Kalgrun and Atokhekwoi. It would serve as a good basis, exploring those islands somewhat, seeing what is there and what is to be gained.

Ohannakeloi climbed the stairs of his keep slower than he might’ve, he wasn’t quite sure what purpose to put each room to yet but he had time. Sending a single through his keep he instructed the Buajaoi to set course for those isles, locked in as it was, the keep flew.


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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Δόξα στον εξωσκελετό

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Alpha.

&

Vrog the Accursed


The jungle-lantern that had elected to lead Vrog through the rain was an old being, weathered and mossy, the pits on its stone surface inhabited by all manner of black specks that would probably have been insects if they were crafted by a more capable hand. The trail it led him on was natural, for a certain value of the term. No axe had beaten it through the shrubbery, certainly, but no ordinary forest was this full of malign will, either.

The tōrō-lantern strode on, dipping its hat-like cover only occasionally to indicate to the Avatar that he was still on the correct path, and drawing near.

Vrog’s tongues swiped about, sampling every trail of smell like sticks running along a xylophone. The constant reminder of meals wafting from distant shrines was a slight annoyance, but the thick, dusky air crushed under the treetops smothered most of it. More often, he felt breaths of death and some sinister omen that could not be fully natural, and his mouths broke into pleased grins.

As his luminous guide nodded once again, he bit down with one pair of jaws, as though just having remembered something important, and ran the ridge of a finger along his side. New stains of scum and rust blossomed over his armour, the air around him growing faintly dark with an unplaceable, but malodorous presence. When he lifted a foot for his next step, he bared a footprint of muck and squirming maggots. He brushed against a low-hanging branch that resembled, not all that vaguely, a grasping withered arm, and a green slimy blight crawled up its bark. Checking himself with a rapid sweep of a tongue, he cracked a satisfied snarl and hurried up his half-loping, half-shambling steps. The lantern had already gone a few paces further ahead.

A gust died just long enough for the sound of music to be audible from the gazebo ahead of the avatar.



Chopstick Eyes had just enough joints in her limbs to stretch out luxuriously under the rain-shaded roof, arms rolling out over the hammocks and around the ovens and braziers, laying easy on a bed of pillows. A pair of limbs strummed her guitar with lazy energy, while another set handled a marimba and a loose strand of hair worked the maraccas. When her sticks focused on the coming stranger, she put down her flute long enough to pick up an already-chomped limb of some large bird and raise it in merry welcome before chomping once more.

“Ey, sup,” she announced, her mouth full. “You Narshak’sh friend?”

The avatar raised two long segmented fingers and cocked them forward in what must have been some form of greeting. As if to punctuate the gesture, a chewed seed snapped against a supporting plank as close as it could get to Chopstick’s head. She tilted her head back with a lengthy stretch and admired the seed embedded in the timber, then turned back and nodded in sage appreciation.

“Something like that,” he hopped across the last steps dividing him from the gazebo, trailing rotting soil all the way, and perched in a crouch on the wooden floor’s edge. The boards under and around him immediately became covered with an ugly-looking greenish mold. “He didn’t figure why you’d been on the low ‘til now, so I got to do the checking.” He fumbled for something near his hip, then snapped his fingers and pointed back at his host. “You got a smoke?”

The sticks creaked for a moment, but Chopstick shrugged, rolling over on her pillows to reach for her backpack. “Sure. Pipe, cigar, or bong?” She reached up from her laze just long enough to put a tin on the table, followed by the other two options and a ground bud in a paper bag. “Personally, I’m just gonna eat. I’ve actually been working…” Yawn, accompanied by an enormous stretch. “Really… hard lately. Join me, the pulled pork is amazing.”

The hooked fingers hovered over the familiar shape of the cigar, but moved sideways to snatch up the bong at the last moment, staining it with rust where they touched. A tongue probed the vapour rising from the mouth, then wrapped itself over it, topping the opening with a narrow coil. Minuscule jaws opened along its length to breathe up the smoke and let it slip through fine openings. The tip clicked appreciatively.

“Love to, but-” another tongue stretched out way longer than it had any business to, snatched off a whole leg from a roasting camel and pulled it back into its maw. Said maw almost immediately spat out a mouthful of fine grey dust. “-someone thought this’d be funny. Could go for a drink, though.” Vrog picked up the bottle closest to him and poured its contents into a cup formed by a third tongue. “Strange how some spit teaches you to appreciate stuff. So, figure I’d ask,” he tapped his belly with one hand and filled a second makeshift cup with another, “What’s up with working? Spit sounds boring as anything.”

“I work so I don’t sleep,” said Chopstick Eyes, right corner of her mouth twitching. She discarded a bone. “I eat so I don’t sleep. Sleeping is terrible. That’s vinegar, by the way. Finest balsamic.” The cloud of dust finally descended low enough to interrupt her chewing and she wheezed. “Geez, dude. Who did that to you?”

“Slagface that really liked dust. Made of it too, far as I could tell. Orvis or something.” Chopsticks had started smiling in a curious way. Vrog raised the bottle to his middle mouth, for lack of anything better to hold it up to. “So that’s why. Thought it was just old. Gotta say, I like the sour a lot better even if it’s got no punch. Mind if I take it?” Without waiting more than a perfunctory instant, he twirled the container in his hand, and it was gone. “But yeah, it’s annoying as it looks. Hit it just when I was getting down from indigestion, too. Sleep’s the spit from what I’ve been hearing, but you gotta be trying to even go wrong with eating. You keep at it long as you can.”

“Mm, I will,” said the goddess, knuckling her mouth with her burnt hand and an unfocused sticky gaze. She was still smiling. “I’ve got more vinegar lying around here somewhere, if you want it, but I have other stuff that has... More of a punch, I guess.” She threw her bone into the air like a juggler’s club and rose with a spin- “Kum-ba-YA!” The fragments of the bone scattered, scorched by desolate magic. Chopstick left the fist with the burning ring in the air for a moment then withdrew it. She stretched again, but in an entirely different way.

“Well! I think it’s time I got back to work on something! Go grab that bottle of tabasco, mm, and that, uh, garum over there, and honestly, anything else that looks liquid. I’ve got some tests I want to run. And I’m gonna show you my lil project! Talk as we walk! Hey, do you like little guys?” Chopstick twirled on a wooden column and made vaguely human-shaped motions.

“Remember I said indigestion?” Vrog hopped and rummaged about the pavilion, leaving a tangled trail of rotting footprints on the floor and traces of infectious growths and grime wherever he touched, which fit remarkably well into the accursed forest. Better than the picnic spread, certainly. Bottles, pitchers and anything that could have contained a fluid were swept up with hand or tongue, generously sampled, and carried along or put back - out of place - seemingly at random. “That was little guys all right. Got enough of 'em then to last me long as I've something to bite with.”

He reached into a fissure in his metallic skin with a free finger and pulled out a small pod-like thing with mournful eyes. With a disgusted grunt, he pinned it on the tip of his claw. “Try putting them in someone's food, though. It'll be hilarious.” A flick, and the podling was sent flying into an open pot. A tongue followed it to check it had landed where supposed to, then abruptly twisted around and pointed questioningly at the goddess. “Less you've got another kind there.”

“Another kind of what, little people? I mean… I guess. In a way.” A frond of Chopstick’s hair competed with Vrog’s tongue for general stretchiness and scooped up the pot before retracting back into the jungle trail on which Chopstick was rapidly disappearing. She shook it, remarked a rattle, shook the pod onto her palm and threw it down her gullet. She chewed. “Tastes like... a bad pill. I’m Skraghnaphgh, by the way. You?”

“Vrog.” The mass of metal and roiling sludge hobbled after her, balancing an armful of drinks and sauces under one hand and the bong in the other. With a spectacle of fingers contorting in ways they perhaps should not have, he managed to pour a few drops of something into the tube, then breathed up again and nodded, mostly to himself. “I like being open. You smell me, you know me.” A hooked digit scraped for another fleshpod, but failed to find any. “Except for the dust and these gutted things, that’s someone else. People can’t go without sticking stuff in here.” The loose finger scratched over his stomach. “That some kind of calling card thing, you think?”

“Probably. I dunno,” said Chopstick Eyes, who was feeling at her throat with odd consternation. “It was somebody else’s name, but they’re not around, so I’m trying it on. Liv calls me Chopstick Eyes... Geez. You sure that thing is meant to be eaten?” She plucked a cigarette holder from behind her ear as the two breached into a scorched wound in the jungle much too large to be called a clearing. “Oh, hey, Liv. This is Vrog.”

The gardener crooned.



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

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The other thing on the island was a lake. But it seemed ridiculous, considering the water all around. So much water. Water in its bones, water in its mind, water around the island, water simply being. There was enough of it, and it irritated This One. Would that it could erase all of it, but unfortunately it couldn't, so it stood and made for the hut.

Some things tell stories with physical appearance. The hut was one of them, as This One found out. There were more rooms than it would have thought, but some things are surprising. Claw marks lined the walls, a half eaten, rotted feast filled one room, one room was furnished for comfort. This was the saddest. The aura it gave off was one of innocence and happiness, but draped in thick bolts of tears.

In a way, it thought, these things were laid like a puzzle.
And yet, it understood, despite unknowable differences.

"Why is this?"

Content with no answer, it sat. Why was it that the place in which it awakened was so opposite to this other place? Here, now, it seemed the room was comfortable and familiar, and though sad and heavy, it was comforting. In the other place, it was less than comfortable physically, and the air was the most twisted mix of comfortable, familiar, vitriolic, swift, and cruel. It was repulsed by the mere thought that some place could exist purely to bring pain to others. Even worse, to lure it in with a falsehood.

It resolved to not be like that. It would bring love to all.

The water was not good for the wood, so This One up and left. It had got what it had unknowingly come for, and the body was less weighty now. It left the house and walked to the lake. The sand crunched under its weight.

In the lake, a spark did reside. It looked up at This One, despite its nonexistent happening. It was just a reflection, if something was really just anything. It saw the love it now bore on the surface of the water. Tempted by what may have been under the surface, it jumped in-

And found itself falling toward yet more water. A familiar feeling. It crashed into a lake, and was again engulfed. It dragged itself to shore, and stayed there for a while.

---


And a while it did stay, until the sun cast long shadows over the earth and yet a longer shadow came forth, growing smaller as it came. The shadow then stopped before This One and when This One looked up it saw a figure of black and stars. Two white orbs glowed down upon him and then, the figure spoke.

"Eurysthenes? What might you be doing here?" he said, his voice layered.

This One pointed at itself, and gave the Shadow a quizzical expression. It felt the blaring eyes boring into it.

”Me? Here? I don’t know,” it said. It dropped its head into the ground, prompting a thin pat noise.

”Why did you call me that? And who are you? And why is anything anywhere?”

The figure descended before This One and landed without sound. Its eyes became quizzical as it looked over This One. "I called you that because that is the name I know you by, Eurysthenes." the figure said softly. He then crouched down, placing his hands a top his thighs as he did. "It's me, Orvus. Your fellow god?" the figure said in a questioning tone. "I know we have never met before but surely you know my name?"

”I did not know your name, but it is nice to meet you,” it said, smiling. It sat up and brought its head level with Orvus’. It regarded him quizzically, and asked ”Why do you know me by that name?”

Orvus squinted his eyes and said, "I know you by that name as I know all our fellow gods by their own names. The Architect told us, do you not remember? Or rather, have you lost your memory? What is the last thing you remember before coming here?"

”I was in a hut, then I fell in a lake. Before that, I was surrounded by spikes that were pinning me to the ground. And before that, the other half of me fell.” it said, without any hesitation. ”Let me show you,” It reached out with one hand, palm up, a small sprig sprouting from it. This grew rapidly, surrounding Orvus, thickening and twisting. Showing, retelling, before vapourising into a thin mist.

Orvus blinked when the retelling ended and his eyes frowned slightly. "I came here searching for Li'kalla, but it seems I found another instead." he said absentmindedly before focusing his attention on This One. "It seems I was right, you've lost a part of yourself. Can you tell me anything about your 'other half'?"

This One laid back down. The sand was comfortable and lovely as anything it had ever known. It was warm. ”Who is Li’Kalla? Can you show me?” it asked. Happiness was a note that rang with clarity when it spoke. ”You think I’ve lost my memories? But I just showed you, I can remember everything. No, I will not tell you about my other half.”

Orvus stood up, his eyes becoming emotionless. "This is what I feared. Unless you lived a very dull existence for these past few ages, then there is a gap you have forgotten. Not knowing who I am or Li'Kalla, who is but one of your sisters, is concerning." Orvus said flatly. "I have not any clue where Li'Kalla is either. You seemed to be in her sphere, where one of her fragments was said to inhabit but it seems you found no one. Which is even more concerning but besides the point. Why will you not tell me about your other half?" He said again. it this time there was a hint of sadness in his voice.

The one who would be called Eurysthenes, if it took Orvus at face value, lay in silence for a whole measure. It filtered what Orvus had said with a fine sieve. ”Few ages? Pardon?” it asked. There was a spacious flavour to its voice, chasm-like, dissonant.

”Time. Much time has passed since we arrived here in this universe. This was an orb of blue, there was no land, no life… Not until the Gods worked upon it. Galbar is it’s name, this place many call their homes. I stand and you sit upon the island that was Li’Kalla’s. Here home is not far… I would take you to her if I knew where she had gone.” Orvus said, looking around. ”I know not what else to tell you, or even how to help. If you would even want it.” he sighed.

”Orvus, you may say I've lost my memory, but I'm not so forgetful that I forgot what you said not ten seconds ago,” it said, airily, trying to lighten the mood in preparing for the next statement. ”I don't want to believe you, but if you are right, would there be any of you gods who could help?”

”Apologies.” Orvus said, pausing in thought. ”As for those who could help you…” he paused as if in thought, ”Perhaps Abanoc? I have not met him, or most of our siblings to be honest. I do know that he is the God of Recording, and his Sphere is Celestial.”

This One lay in a silence with pressure, gazing at, or rather through, Orvus. Up at the sky. There were treasures up there somewhere, it now knew. Even if it hadn’t lost its memory, it would know for sure. ”Orvus… my deepest thanks,” it said. It proceeded to stand up, leaving a patch of wet sand behind. ”Where would I find Abanoc?”

"In my travels I have found a place that felt touched by his essence. To the far east, over water and through storms there is another continent. This one is named the Dragons Foot but directly above it, there resides another piece of land called the Kick. Upon a mountain in the east, that is where the area resides. I wish you luck in this journey." Orvus then said, "Or you could just call for him. Either your mind simply speak his name and perhaps he will answer."

“Eurysthenes” nodded and smiled. ”I already offered thanks, but just once doesn’t express my gratitude. Truly.” it said, and slithered away.
---

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Hidden 1 mo ago 1 day ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Great Dreamer Moot


In lieu of an official gathering hub, the dreamer host summoned for the great moot all instead were to meet at the now-empty Mansion of the Our Mothers. With all the expansion projects over the decades, the once small estate could now easily accommodate the roughly one hundred and fifty or so dreamers that existed; however, the old courtyard surrounded by the three abodes of wood still remained much the same. Wenbo sat in the doorway of the dining house, absent-mindedly maintaining a twig flute using a sharp rock. His family were the first to arrive, a given as their house was rather close and they had sent out the invitations. Behind him, Ai, Naran and a number of Wenbo and Ai’s children and grandchildren were preparing supper for the whole moot. It was an all-too-rare occurrence that their whole clan would meet - the warmth in Wenbo’s chest urged him to gather them more often.

A smile curved his lips as he gleefully watched his slightly wilder grandchildren chase one-another back and forth across the courtyard as he once had his siblings. The teens among them, and they had grown in number since he last saw them, huddled into cliques and discussed a myriad of topics, most of which Wenbo felt certain his opinion on would be lame and old. He saw Wen Cai scoff at one of her cousins and playfully strike him after he presumably said something slightly too playful; among the younger ones, he saw Wen Qi pull one of his cousins by his hair as their game of catch grew slightly too hot-blooded for their own good. As he pressed his palms down on his thighs and craned his torso forward to stand, however, one of his four daughters, Wen Fei, gave him a reassuring smile and went on ahead in his stead. Wenbo snickered at her, and as the hot-aired words of her scolding floated across the courtyard, not completely unchallenged by tearful shouts from Wen Qi and the other enthusiastic children, the ageing dreamer drew in a soft breath through his nose.

“... Hey, chalky! Your head looks like a crow’s nest!”

Wenbo blinked and looked down on the ground before him. A small gang of sparrows pecked mockingly on the ground and snickered to one another.

“Pfft, yeah! Like a dirty, old twig heap!” they continued.

The old Dreamer gave them a sharp look and one of the sparrows broke out of its snicker.

“... ‘Ey… ‘Ey, fellas, somethin’s up with this one. Look at ‘im, is as if he can hear us or somethin’.”

Wenbo huffed. “For your information, I can.”

The sparrows looked awkwardly at one another. “Aw, tits,” said one of them.

“What’s wrong with my hair?” Wenbo asked self-conciously, wrinkly hands ruffling the graying black bush atop his scalp. The sparrows exchanged sheepish looks.

“Nothin’, mista’ - best hair I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, ‘s a lil’ spiky, gotta admit.”

“Whaaat? Nooo… A bit?”

Wenbo huffed again. “Easy for you three to say - you don’t have any hair.”

“‘Ey, ‘ey - now that’s just rubbin’ it in, dreamer boy,” one of them tweeted angrily.

“Chippy, ‘e’s right. You ain’t got no hair.”

“Oh, Crumbus, that’s way below the tail.”

The angry bird, presumably Chippy, gave the one known as Crumbus a look of betrayal before flapping his wing at him and taking off. Crumbus gulped.

“Now, ‘ey! What did I say? ‘E really ain’t got no hair!” Crumbus insisted. The third sparrow shook his head.

“Tits, Crumb… Really gotta rub it in, huh. Thought you were better than this.” The third sparrow took off as well, tailed by an increasingly frustrated Crumbus exclaiming that what they had was feathers and dow.

Wenbo still sat in the doorway, his eyebrows admitting that he had found the conversation to be anywhere between awkward and amusing. He traced an approaching shadow up to see the smile of his son Wen De. The young adult looked to the sky in the general direction of the sparrows’ flight and chuckled.

“Did they say anything amusing, dad?” he asked kindly and put his hands on his hips. Wenbo shrugged.

“Eh… I’ve heard better.” He put his flute down on the floor beside him. “How’re you doing, De?”

“Not too bad, I suppose - Chunhua’s really happy about the addition to the house you helped us build. Now we’ve got a proper storage shed so the twins’ bed actually fits inside our living room. So, yeah, thanks, dad.”

Wenbo nodded happily. “How are the little Yun and Tu?”

“Oh, very well, very well. Yun sadly broke his arm a few months ago, but it seems to be healing well now, thank the gods.”

“Thank the gods,” Wenbo echoed and smiled. “I’m happy for you, De - really am. I know we didn’t think much of Chunhua in the beginning, but she looks to be right for you, after all.”

Wen De let out a quick, sheepish chuckle. “Where’s this coming from, dad? Are you alright?”

The old dreamer blinked as though he broke out of a light trance. He pursed his lips and snorted. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry about me.”

Wen De’s smile faded into a look of concern. Wenbo gazed at the sky above and leaned back, propping himself on his hands.

“... The cup of my heart is shaking while full. The weight of this mission is calling forth words.” He chuckled and Wen De remained worried still. The old dreamer then sighed. “I may grow a little sentimental throughout the day, my son, so you may as well get used to it.”

“Yeah,” De responded. “You’d tell us if something was bothering you, right?”

Wenbo smiled. “A million things bother me, my child, and you would probably get bored of hearing them long before I could ever finish.” He looked past De for a moment at the figures approaching through the gateway. “Ah… There he is. Go tell your mother that Chagatai’s family has come.”

Wen De turned around and smiled. “Right on it, dad.” The dreamer stepped through the wide doorway Wenbo sat in. Wenbo nodded to himself and gazed towards the gate. The unmistakable blue hair of Altansarnai danced on the breeze next to the powerful build of his own precious twin brother. Wenbo pushed himself to his feet and strode across the courtyard, hands collected behind his back and a smirk about his face.

“The Leader has come at the Thinker’s call. Sound the flutes - yes, tell all - Chagatai and clan have come - joy is here and despair’s gone!”

“Wenbo!” Chagatai roared over the chattering of his kin, “I have ridden the mighty Tree-Eaters of white!”

“It was an accident, they spent like three minutes apologizing to each other!” Altansarnai corrected as they made the final few steps. Now in reach, Chagatai extended his arm, poking Wenbo on the cheek.

“What dangers of thought is the Thinker thinking this time?” Chagatai mused before pulling Wenbo into a rough hug.

Wenbo returned a loud guffaw and slid in a poke on Chagatai’s cheek in the middle of the hug. “Oh-ho, it’s a terrifying plan this time, Chaggie - you won’t like it one bit, but I’ll admit that it may be the biggest thing to ever happen to us - to all of us.” Wenbo squeezed and patted Chagatai a few more times before breaking the hug. His grin faded a little and his brow lowered over his eyes. “We’ll wait until the rest of us arrive before the big reveal, but… Safe to say, it’ll be something else.”

“Alright but if I don’t like it, I’m--” Chagatai paused and turned to his bride, “What’s a good threat?”

“You’re going to cook him dinner?” She suggested and Chagatai frowned.

“Better yet,” He turned back to Wenbo, “I’ll have her do it. You could ride one of her roasts into the thick of the hunt.”

“I like them bloody,” She tilted her chin high.

“I’d say your roasts is closer to a tartar, really,” came a voice from behind Wenbo. Ai stepped forward with a smirk on her face and a tray in her hands, the ceramic disc sporting various steamed and grilled appetizers.

“I don’t even know what that is, so there,” Altansarnai gave a smug smile before pinching one of the appetizers and flicking it into her mouth, “Little hot.” She made a face as she exhaled wildly.

Ai huffed. “No, Altan, you’re supposed to blow on it first - I told you this when you were four.”

“Why can’t you just serve them at food temperature,” Altansarnai swallowed hard. Ai rolled her eyes and continued to serve the other arrivals.

“Always with the hard hitting questions that leave even the best Dreamer thinkers on edge,” A sing-song voice laughed, the speckled face of Li leaning into the conversation, only to be intercepted by a large Chagatai hug.

“You’re damn right,” Altansarnai pointed a finger, “And it doesn’t stop there, either.”

“Now, if it isn’t our lieutenant!” Wenbo hurried over as fast as his ageing legs could carry him and hugged Li as soon as Chagatai let him go. “How are you, lil’ Li?”

“And where have you been?” Chagatai smiled as he asked, “It’s been a while since we had heard from you.”

Li opened his eyes wide, “Well, do I have a story for you guys.”

“Usually it’s the other way around,” Altansarnai poked Li’s cheek and he brushed the spot with the back of his hand.

He looked down at the ground, “I know, I know,” His smile was thoughtful, “But no really... I was out with my grandson Urangtai looking for grubs to bait a few traps when I heard a song from the heavens themselves... I think I met one of the Weavers of K’nell. From the stories.”

“Nooo… You did? Wait, did you stroll too close to the Forbidden Forest?” Wenbo accused playfully.

The playfulness was lost on Li as he held his hands up, “No! I swear. I was in the fields... the weaver was sitting on that flat rock our mother used to bring us to.” He held out his hands as if to hold an instrument, “Plucking along a strange instrument and singing strange lyrics. It was so beautiful, I have to admit I was brought to tears.” He held his head proud, as if that was impossible.

“Tears? You?” Chagatai rubbed his chin, indulging the man.

“Yes,” Li nodded furiously, “I never experienced anything like it.”

“Huh,” Wenbo hummed. “Is Urangtai here to confirm the story?”

“You don’t believe him?” Altansarnai turned to Wenbo, “Has Li ever been a liar?” Wenbo motioned for her to quiet down and gave her a sly smirk, to which she narrowed her eyes at.

Chagatai grasped his chin anxiously as he watched his wife’s face turn a shade of red, but Li cut in with a quick, “Of course... er.” He turned his head, “Urangtai! Get over here.”

The lanky young man jogged on over, a deep yellow strip leading straight down from his right eye, “Yes Grandfather Li?”

“Tell your Elder Wenbo what you saw by the flat rock of the fields.”

Altansarnai was still staring daggers at Wenbo as Urangtai suddenly exploded into a story, “... The music was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It was soft, but quick. Happy yet sad. So many mysterious things were said... and at the very end -- the weaver stood up, disguised as a Dreamer and approached us.”

Li bowed his head as Urangtai finished, “And asked us to pray with him.”

Wenbo grinned. “Ah, just as the stories say. So, Urangtai, have you proposed to my granddaughter yet?”

Urangtai’s eyes widened, “S-Song?” He looked at Li who shrugged and then back at Wenbo, “This was a trap?”

“Congratulations, boy,” Chagatai slapped his back, “You figured it out.”

Altansarnai finally let out a hissing steam, “You--” She pushed Wenbo, “At least tell me beforehand, geez. I thought a quoll crawled up your ass.”

Wenbo cackled maniacally and patted Altansarnai on her back, then himself on the spot where she had pushed him. “A strategy is best kept secret, lest the opponent can read your every move.” Wenbo then reached over to squeeze Urangtai’s shoulder. “A trap, it may have been, son, but nothing like the trap of marriage - oh, but don’t worry, it’s a nice trap, that. So, have you popped the question yet? Just so you know, you’re all she ever talks about. I snap near stopped going to Tian’s house because of Song’s yapping. You’ve got good chances, son.”

“Oh,” Urangtai said dumbly, “Right... well...”

“Urangtai is scared of Wen Song,” Li explained and Urangtai jumped in his spot.

“I’m not scared,” Urangtai defended himself, “Just... no disrespect Elder Wenbo, but she can be a little intense.”

“Intense?” Altansarnai cocked a head, “Sweet little Song? She couldn’t harm a ghost fly.”

“I don’t think he means your kind of intense,” Chagatai put an arm around Altansarnai, “The other kind.”

Urangtai gave Wenbo a weak smile “I like her, I do!”

“Beware! Beware! She’s -craaazy-!” came a voice from behind Wenbo, followed by multiple cackles. Wenbo swung around and saw his granddaughter Cai sprint away with a few others. He shook his fist after them.

“Cai! Don’t sabotage your cousin’s wedding, you-...!” He shut himself up and turned back. “Don’t mind her. You know how she is.”

“Who said wedding?” Urangtai squeeked.

“I believe that would be Song,” A well squared jaw popped over Urangtai’s shoulder, the bearded face of Bataar holding a bright smile, “Even I’ve heard her wedding plans.” He slipped in next to his father, Chagatai, who gave him a slap on the back.

“What?” Urangtai paled.

“It has something to do with your names shaved into the sides of a thousand tree-eaters, and enough honey to spell out her love for you with the cloudlings themselves,” Bataar arched a brow.

“My name isn’t even that long,” Urangtai bit his fingers, eyes wide.

“Maybe you should tell her that,” Bataar winked at Wenbo, “Over a glass of sweetgrass wine, perhaps?”

“I will!” Urangtai stomped a foot.

Wenbo grinned. “Make sure to do that today, though - after dinner. I can tell you of a nice spot in the vegetable gardens where the cabbage patches make it really hard for peepers to peek in.” He nudged the young lad with his elbow. “If you’re lucky, the wine pot Temüjin buried there back in the day might still be full. Knock yourselves out.” He patted Urangtai proudly on the shoulder. “Make us proud, grandson-in-law.”

Urangtai puffed up his chest and huffed off, unsure of what he was doing anymore.

“Tame the wild beast!” Bataar called after him, only slightly cringing as he turned back to make eye contact with Wenbo, “All due respect of course.”

“Naturally,” Wenbo nodded.

A sweet, musical laughter appeared behind Li, followed by a quiet sigh. Flanked on the side by a warmly-grinning Ai, Bayarmaa gently stepped into the conversation circle. She had a soft, slightly wrinkly smile about her face that seemed to beam like its own version of heliopolis.

“Oh, our sweet, little boy…” she mused and leaned her head on Li’s shoulder. “He’s grown into such a handsome man… Must be your looks, Li.” She gave her husband a playful smile and rubbed her alabaster hair against his cheek. She turned to the crowd and giggled. “It’s so nice to see you all again - as always, it’s way too long between each time. Look at you all, as wonderful as you always have been.” She eyed Bataar up and down. “Oh, little Batty, you’re just as handsome as your father.”

“Oh stop,” Both Bataar and Chagatai said at the same time. Altansarnai sucked in a breath, a laugh on her lips.

“How is Chenghis anyways?” Li asked Bataar.

Bataar made a satisfied face, “He is good, nearly a man now. He has a growing fondness for the White Tree Eaters. I think our friendship with the herd is finally turning into something greater.”

“And all it took was for one dreamer to wrestle one to the ground,” Altansarnai looked up at her husband, “Who woulda thought.”

“The trick was, I wasn’t thinking,” Chagatai winked and Altansarnai gave him a curled smile. Bataar furrowed his brows and shook his head.

“But yes, Chenghis is doing well.”

“That is wonderful to hear,” Bayarmaa assured. “So, Wenbo - a family gathering like this is so fantastic of you to arrange, but, really, why did you call us all here? You’re not usually the one to plan the family gatherings.”

“No, we are,” Ai added with a smirk, but then gave Wenbo a worried, yet reassuring look. The Thinker chuckled at Bayarmaa’s remark, though his smile quickly faded.

“Zhongcheng, Laia and their children shouldn’t be too far away now. I reckon Temüjin and Ansong aren’t far behind them again. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ve got a lot to share.”

The dreamers slowly filled up the courtyard, and as they did, they found mattresses, blankets, carpets and pillows to sit on. All the five main clans, headed by the married couples of the original ten dreamer children. Cousins and siblings all sat mixed up, however; cheeks were poked; hugs, exchanged. A beautiful rainbow of Ashallan birthmarks and primitively dyed clothes coloured the otherwise monochrome sight. In front of the crowd sat Wenbo in the doorway of the dining house. He looked outwards at the crowd, a sad smile on his lips. He looked at Ai, who once more gave him a somber, reassuring look. He licked his teeth in a quick motion and stood up. He extended his hands forward and inclined his head.

“Welcome, each and every one of you! It’s, wow, it really is unreal seeing you all again after such a long time since our last big gathering. Sure, I’ve visited some of you since then, but, snap (excuse the language), seeing every single one of you here is just crazy.”

Ai rolled her eyes and the children giggled.

“The quicker the words, the sooner the feast!” Chagatai called out and a roar of laughter followed his jeering. Shoulders were punched and hands came to pat Chagatai, almost egging him to continue -- but the man gave Wenbo a respectful wink and settled into his seat.

Wenbo grinned for a moment and continued, “Now, all of you might be wondering why I actually called everyone here. Now, as dear Bayarmaa said, it’s wonderful to see you all here - see how you’ve grown and aged. Our family truly is blessed with good looks, gotta say.” He snickered to himself, backed up by a few blushing giggles in the crowd. Then, his tone caught a melancholic sense about it. “However, as much as I would love to meet just for the sake of seeing you all, there is a deeper plot behind this summoning.”

Wenbo stuck a hand into the fold of his robe. From a pocket inside he pulled out a plump, ripe stalkplum, its hard, yet flaky outer shell revealing the nutritious yellow orb in its centre. “Can anyone tell me what this is?”

“A stalkplum!” the children exclaimed in an adorable excuse for unison. Wenbo nodded.

“That’s right. It’s a stalkplum. Perfectly ripe and delicious for grinding into plum meal for your flatcakes. Remember who taught us how to harvest these?”

“Mother Xiaoli did!” the children once more exclaimed. A few of the mothers picked up the more enthusiastic toddlers and caressed them calmly in their arms. Wenbo nodded.

“That’s right. Mother Xiaoli taught us to work the soil, and thanks to that, our people have not gone hungry for as long as any of us can remember, really. We’re all forever thankful to her for that, aren’t we? Aren’t we?”

The dreamers began to giggle and clap in appreciation. Wenbo clapped and snickered. “Yeah, yeah! None of us would be here without mom and mother - none of us. Which is really why I wish they were here for this…” He sucked in a breath and sighed. A number in the crowd exchanged uncertain looks. Wenbo continued, “See, the reason I bring up the topic of this stalkplum is that the teacher who taught mother how to farm came to me in a vision.”

There came a number of gasps. Temüjin crawled a little closer to hear better. Bayarmaa covered her mouth with her hand. Wenbo pursed his lips and Chagatai turned his head slightly, suspicion crossing his eyes. One of the children raised a hand and Wenbo pointed at her. The child spoke, “Who taught mother?” and Wenbo make a wry frown.

“His Lordship Shengshi, the great God of the Rivers and the Harvest. He came to me and said some kind words, and then left me with a proposal.” He rolled the stalkplum around in his hand.

“What was his Lordship’s proposal?” Chagatai asked for the host of Dreamers, standing up.

Wenbo took in a lungful of air. “His Lordship has requested that I bring my whole family, as well as any others who want to follow, to the southern shore of Tendlepog, by the cliff beaches. There, His Lordship will wait for us and, once we have come to him, he will take us to a new home, a promised land.”

“But we already live in a promised land,” Chagatai furrowed his brow, “Why leave the land promised to our mothers?”

Wenbo nodded. “A valid question. Even though His Lordship said this land was fat and ripe with nourishment and sweet water; with challenges and mastery; a land where winter never comes - even though He promised all this, do we not already have it here?” He paused for a moment, looking down at the stalkplum in his hand again. “You see, that was not all that was promised. Settlement in this new land was merely the mission - a mission rewarded with a gift.”

Temüjin rose up and walked over next to Chagatai, crossing his arms over his chest. “What manner of gift could be enough to leave home, Wen-Wen?” His voice was almost somber. Wenbo winced a little at the tone, a hurt expression crossing his face.

“Remember the mountain,” Chagatai warned simply, one hand falling on his left arm where the tiger’s pelt covered a gruesome scar.

Wenbo nodded at the two, glancing to Ai for support. This time, however, even she seemed uncertain. The Thinker closed his eyes. “This reward is greater than a handful of shiny pebbles, Chaggie, and perhaps even worth leaving home for.”

“Is it?” Chagatai asked, “Sometimes you’d think that there must be a greater field over the moving mountains, only to find the dustlands. How do you know?”
“I have a god’s word, Chaggie - a god’s word that, should we complete the mission, the blood of my people - as well as any others who come along - will be blessed with prosperity for eternity.”

“What do you call this?” Altansarnai jumped to her feet.

“Can we complete the mission?” Another, younger Dreamer suddenly asked, his face similar to that of Zhongcheng.

“Altan, please, let me finish,” Wenbo said and turned to the young dreamer. “The mission is simply to settle the lands, so I reckon it’s very possible.”

“I do not disagree,” The younger dreamer piped up again, known as Zhong Wang, “But I have to wonder, as there are lands we have encountered that we cannot settle -- and Elder Zhongcheng has always taught us to question the simplicity of requests. I beg for your wisdom, Elder, but put forth my own on the matter.”

Wenbo nodded proudly. “As you should - believe me, I have run these requests over and over in my head and wondered ceaselessly why, oh why His Lordship would want us in his plans. Still, what he has promised the bloodlines of those that follow him - this cannot be ignored.”

“Zhong Wang, Elder Wenbo, if I may,” Bataar stood up now, “I too am a student of Zhongcheng, as well as that of my own lineage, and I remember the third warning of Zhongcheng -- should we solve the problem as it stands, or should we ask why we are making it a problem? I stand with my father and my mother when I ask, what can be applied to our lineage that we cannot find here? We live under the guise of the Creator God of this land itself, as well has his creation, our Elder Mother. Are we wanting?”

Wenbo sighed. “You already are wise beyond your years, Bataar - likely much wiser than me. However, allow me to quote His Lordship and say his words as he said them to me.” Wenbo reached into his robe once more and took out a scroll made up of strips of bark tied together with thread. He unrolled it and held it up for all to see. “As soon as he had spoken to me, I wrote down all he had said. Many words would have been forgotten, had I had a similarly long conversation with anybody else - but these words, my family, these words are forever carved into my mind. Pay attention, all of you, for these are His Lordship’s words:I will never let you starve nor your crops fail, and wherever you walk, wealth shall appear in abundance. Your cups will never empty and your guests will never leave thirsty. All this and more, I, Shengshi, promise you and your kin, my child.

After reading, he paused.

“Do you find your cup empty, Wenbo?” An unfamiliar voice gently rose from the audience, a tall dreamer standing up. He had long alabaster hair and silver eyes, with no mark on his forehead and a wrinkle by each eye that betrayed him older than even Chagatai. Li suddenly paled, shaking Bayarmaa’s shoulder wildly and mouthing ‘it’s him’ over and over.

Wenbo blinked and lowered his scroll. “Forgive me, friend, but… D-do we know you?”

“I am the man who bound your parents’ hands in marriage,” The dreamer answered, folding his hands into his lap, “Does your mouth run dry?”

“The man who bound our--” Wenbo began before his eyes widened to nearly twice their size. His knees buckled and the old dreamer fell to his hands, prostrating himself and provoking the same reaction from all the others. “O-oh, merciful--... Great God, o merciful God.”

“Has my garden lost its splendor?” K’nell asked, a finger pinching his clean chin.

“O-of course not, Your Holiness - the garden of T-Tendlepog cannot ever lose its splendor. Life here is idyllic, t-truly!” He pushed his forehead as far into the soil as his could, nearly muffling his voice.

K’nell tapped the back of Wenbo’s head once, “Then stand and tell me: if you do not wish to leave for the wealth of Shengshi, nor because my kingdom is lacking, then why?”

Awed and shaken, Wenbo rose to his feet and swallowed. An additional moment was taken to find the correct words, characterised by silent movements on his lips. He stood, as proudly as he could, and spoke, "... It is a divine mission, and the world out there is… Well, we know nothing of it save vague stories of ancient lands passed down from our mothers. Here, neither mouth nor stomach goes empty, and I'll be certain that my children and their children will forever grow up in peace and tranquility." He paused and his oldest son, Ren, stood up as well, eyeing his father. "... And yet, my heart is wanting, o greatest God. It is as my brother said: I have foolishly attempted to find suitable land beyond the moving mountains, and in my youth, I even dared set foot in the Sacred Woods - as I am certain His Holiness remembers…" He lowered his head in shame. "Still, while the beauty of Tendlepog is endless and its bounty, rich, my wanderlust, my spirit, is found wanting."

"Then speak of it in no other way," K'nell commanded, "And then you may go, as the choice is yours -- but only after you bear witness to three warnings."

He held up one finger, "To leave my kingdom, is to leave the closest you may be with me. You will be without the unseen angels that protect you here, there will be no ensured paradise beyond my borders and my promises of future and end go only as far as my music can be heard. You will be at the mercy of other forces."

He held up a second finger, "To leave my kingdom, there is a chance that you nor your descendants may ever be able to return. The world is mysterious, and my garden shall only grow more hidden and safe, until my final promise is met."

He held up a third and final finger, "I say to you now the final warning, do not leave until I rip open the sky, or you and all who leave will be forever lost. You will know when it is done, as it will be obvious and will usher back your two mothers."

Wenbo felt sweat moisten his skin. His son Ren came over to him and took his hand. “Dad, we-... We’re happy here, right? I mean, the warnings-... You heard him, right?” He looked between his father’s indecisive expression and K’nell’s dreamer form. “Right?”

Wenbo lifted his gaze to regard K’nell again, a determined flicker dancing within the black of his eyes. “Is the outside world as grand and mysterious as the stories told?”

"Mystery and grandiose is what you make of it, Wenbo. You stand on but a small slice of land crafted by the God of riddles and the God of sleep at the dawn of creation, yet you look thirstily elsewhere -- so by your eyes, you will either find what you seek in the new lands, or you will thirst for yet another land after a taste." K'nell paused, "Hermes, your mother, had traveled the lands at the dawn of creation -- I only suspect that this fire and desire for adventure I had instilled in her is also in you. I am not punishing you for it, I am simply making you aware of what the choice entails. To comfort your soul I will now depart with two promises." He pursed his lips, "Firstly I shall listen to all who pray to me, so keep my name in your heart, and my mark on your mind. Secondly, no matter the deed, should you or any descendent of any who leave find their way back to the soil of Tendlepog despite the perils of my second warning, they shall be welcomed back as a once lost son or daughter."

Wenbo gave his son a look, who returned it with concern. Wenbo then eyed his family, sampled their reactions and turned back to K’nell. “I understand, great God…” He turned to Chagatai with a half-smile and let out a single chuckle. “I’m sorry for not telling you about this alone like we used to, Chaggie - now I wish I had discussed it with you before I told everyone.” He wrinkled his nose and turned to K’nell again. “Then I will wait until the sky is torn apart. I will not demand anyone come with me, of course - not even my own family. I know that is what His Lordship demanded, but I won’t force anyone to accept these terms.”

"As you shouldn't," K'nell agreed, "Should you forget every lesson I have ever departed on your kin and minds, always remember that a choice belongs solely to its owner and can never be forced, nor can a thought, nor an opinion."

Wenbo nodded. “Understood, great God.”

"Is it?" K'nell asked with a smile, "I shall be with you in every dream, to my palace you will all return." With little more, K'nell turned away and began to walk out of the estate. As he did, a shimmering trailed behind him, and a host of weavers flooded into existence, parading the God through the dreamers until he was long into the distance.

The crowd collected themselves again, sitting back up one by one. Ren exchanged looks with his father, and Wenbo himself surveyed the expressions among the Dreamers before him.

"Well, there you have it," he finally said, "the terms have been set - a promise of a holy bloodline in a great world beyond, or an eternity of safety and tranquility here. The choice is yours, my family. I… I will go. Whomever wishes to join me are welcome to do so." Before he let anyone else speak, he raised a palm. "Please, take time to think this through. While our God invited us back should we wish, I suspect it will not be as simple as one may think."

The crowd remained silent, then some chatter began to rumble.

"With the words of the second warning and the perils of the second promise, I hope no one thinks it is simple," Chagatai could be heard grumpily talking to Altansarnai. The woman didn't respond, a hurt look on her face as she listened to a few of the mumbles. Finally the leader shouted above the murmurs.

"We break for our feast, then we tend to our homes."

“Agreed,” Temüjin added with relief in his voice and clapped his hands together. Bayarmaa smiled and shuffled towards the kitchens, trailed by a host of grandchildren. Wenbo sat himself down in the doorway, propping his head on a fist with a groan. Children and grandchildren passed by him as they went inside to grab the various prepared dishes - some of them squeezed Wenbo’s shoulder in sympathy, though no one said anything. Wenbo wrinkled his nose and rubbed his face with a rugged palm.

“Gods, what am I doing,” he mumbled to himself.

“Trying to oust me as the man of crazy ideas,” Chagatai answered, plopping down next to his twin, “You should know how it works: I get both of us in over our heads, you think us out of it, and then I take the blame, but use my rugged good looks to get a few laughs out of it.”

Wenbo snickered. “Yeah… Yeah, I’m way out of my league here. Not used to being the dumbass.” He nudged Chagatai’s arm playfully.

“Exactly, everyone thinks it is easy being the idiot of the group, but really it is a lot of work,” Chagatai pumped a fist to his chest, “But this is a whole new level of strange… and if you go on with it, well there won’t be…” He twisted his lips into a frown, “Well, the twins.”

“Yeah, I know… It’s just-...” He stopped himself. “There is this clump within me - an insatiable lust for, well…” He looked at the surrounding nature. “We have everything here, Chaggie. Everything and yet-... No matter how far I take my staff and go exploring, so much looks… Alike. Even that which changes is predictable in its next form - the moving mountains will always be mountains, no matter if they’re in the east or the west, and beyond them will always be an endless desert that we know doesn’t lead anywhere.” He shook his head. “No, I’ve thought a lot about mom’s stories lately… There are apparently mountains so tall out there that you cannot even see the peaks, and forests so dense that they might as well be one single mass of wood and foliage. Then, think of the wildlife, Chaggie - think of all that which can be sampled and studied out there!”

“Wen-wen,” Chagatai sucked in a breath, “I’m every bit mom’s son the same as you, and I love my adventures -- I mean don’t even get me started on the white herd… but this is different. I’m not Zhongcheng or Bayarmaa but I think the big reason why your speech sort of flopped was because you kept--” Chagatai pursed his lips. “Wenbo, the reason the others look to me for guidance is because every damn adventure since the mountains with Li when we were kids has been for them, not for me -- and you just spent a moot telling us all that the reason we should go over was for things we already have when the real reason was your wanderlust.”

“... I couldn’t very well lie - not to Him. Besides, what else should I have said?”

“The truth, always the truth,” Chagatai furrowed his brow, “If you had said that you had been given a chance to fulfill your wanderlust and were looking for like minds, maybe then I could see a justification, but you asked us to uproot for a better life. I hate the idea of you leaving no matter the cause, but I can at least respect the truth.”

“But it always was the truth! What I said was exactly what His Lordship told me!” Wenbo tightened his hand into a fist and scowled at nothing in particular. “He promises a better life - all this, He said… The adventure is second hand to Him, but first hand to me, that is all.”

“I’m not a smart man,” Chagatai narrowed his eyes, “But you are -- so I assume you at least asked this God what he meant by a better life, what the details were -- to see if they were so grave to leave the light of another God and all their bounty. You remember the stories of our mothers’, each God has a very different view, of course whatever his Lordship Shengshi offers will be better on his tongue, but is it better on yours?”

Wenbo drew a breath through the nose. “A god of rivers and grain offering an eternity without hunger and thirst and wealth must be knowing what He is talking about.” He shot a sideways glance at the treetops in the distance.

“It sounds to me like you enjoy the broad strokes of his words,” Chagatai accused, “You know as well as I do that a god isn’t defined by their specialty. Did the God of rain create our cloudlings, did the God of the hunt create our beasts, or was it the God of sleep and the God of riddles who made the very stone we walk on. The God of Rivers made half our flesh, but never touched a river on this land, even.”

“You’re right - no other god has ever made anything in these lands; no one but our guardian. Apart from half the soil, all of its inhabitants are purely His work.” Wenbo gestured to the sky. “Can you imagine it, Chaggie, just how much we are missing? The God of Rain did not create the cloudlings, no - the God of the Hunt did not create our beasts, no; we know not at all what they actually have created, or if they have created anything at all. There is a world beyond this land, and to leave it, we have to abandon the chance to return.” He blinked a little and gave the ground a blank frown. “In fact, is it not a little odd that it is so difficult for leavers to return?”

Chagatai stared blankly for a while before slowly shaking his head, “Not if the world outside our little paradise is a threat. I’ve trapped by many burrows to understand that -- and that’s why I can’t come. I gave up the idea of being a wild adventurer the day I realized my responsibility is to all my kin. If this is the safer option, then I have to lead our people forward here and here alone. This land is vast and holds many challenges, I cannot forsake them, not now.”

Wenbo blinked rapidly and looked down, a little moisture gathering in the corners of his eyes. He nodded barely. “Yes… Yes, that is understandable.” He snickered quietly. “Always the responsible one, you were. Without fail, you still are. I may have had the solutions, the strategies, but never that sense of responsibility that you have.”

At this point, a few of the dreamer children had gathered to listen to the two elders’ discussion. Wenbo eyed them with a weak smile. “No, Chaggie, you’re right. Your place is here. If our people aren’t already safe in this haven, they certainly will be as long as one of your blood watches over them.” He snickered and pushed himself to his feet, placing two hands on his lower back to push out a lasting ache. “But me, well…” He gave Chagatai a orange-ringed wink. “... I always had cities to plan, farms to dig - stones to find…” He gazed into the horizon. “Would you tell Ai I’ve gone for a walk? I need a moment with my mind.”

“Warden watch you,” Chagatai gave a slant of smile, “I’ll be here.”

Wenbo nodded in gratitude and walked towards the gates, hands collected behind his back.




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Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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&







He flew for a long time, the burden of his decision to keep Rowan in the dark, weighed his heart down. Where he had sought to find answers and advice from a friend, he had found only more questions. Li'Kalla was gone, he could not find her and thus he feared the worst had befallen his sister. He had once found Silver's own advice to be invaluable and he had sought Li'Kalla out for the same and he had failed. For that, he blamed himself. He should have gone with her to help unite them, it was the least he owed her. There was no sign of the Beast or any fragments, it was if she simply disappeared.

Instead, he had found Eurysthenes, the God of Illusions. His siblings predicament was an unusual one and he did not know whether the god was being truthful or not. Yet from everything he could tell, his loss was genuine. Orvus knew not how to help him and that realization was hard to grasp. Hopefully Abanoc would know better, if he still existed as well.

And so Orvus had left Li'Kalla's island home and traveled in the direction of the Eye. He knew not what awaited him at his home, only that he would have to face his own decisions and the consequences that came from them. It was strange to even grasp, that a being so powerful and limitless as he, still struggled with himself. Perhaps he was more mortal than he had ever realized. But he was not mortal, he was a God and could fix any problem, but could he fix this? Fertility was not his strong suit, that was more of a Phystene thing. Could he bless his family with it? Could he give them what they really wanted. Or what his wife really wanted? Familiarity of home and a new chance for life. The more he thought about it, the more he began to think it could be done.

He would give his daughters and wife what they lacked but… Who would they… He thought more on this. Rowan and he were together but there was no one for Ava and Lily. Even Arya and Laurien. There was no species that they could have children with. That would need to be rectified as well. That was what his family lacked. More. Just like the Selka, and Ihokhetlani, so too would he create his own species, molded after himself and his girls. They would be called, Nebulites. After the form he adopted as his own.

He had another thought, one spurred by his families human form in the dream. Why not have the best of both worlds? He would make them have two appearances. One of the Celestial and one of the Cthonic. They would also have to be capable of flight, would have longevity, greater height, and be capable of reproducing with any species. That offspring, outside of their own kind, would be like the people from his dream. Yes, this would have to do. Perhaps then Rowan would not be so angry with him. Still, he could go further and give himself a human form, one from the dream. Yes, he knew that would work.

Yet he was hesitant. Did he have the power for such a feat? The Nebulites would be no mundane species, not like others that inhabited the world. So lost in thought he was that Orvus completely flew past the Eye and off into the direction of the Dragon's Foot. It was then that something caught his eye, and brought his attention into focus. In the distance, something floated in the sky.

It was fairly large and rather solid looking, not a combination often seen in terms of things floating in the sky. It appeared to be made of stones of various sorts, a central cylindrical structure, at the bottom a domed shape capped off that end. At the top however arose out a central tower, or more appropriately a keep, as walls reached up from the base apart from the keep inside. The walls were carved intricately, each having a very specific pattern evocative of different beings, some familiar and others not.

This and more came to Orvus in that instant, but also was another some detail, on the ramparts of the wall, raised from the central block and set apart from the keep, sat a crab. And he was waving. His voice reached out the inter-spanning distance with the ease of communication between the two gods.

“Hello! Orvus I do believe it was if my memory from the Architect’s Palace serves rightly?”

He thought it a strange sight but he knew the voice behind those words even if he had never heard it before. He began to make his way closer to the keep.

"And you are Ohannakeloi, God of Stone. Hello sibling of mine." he said, having flown over to the keep in a blink of an eye. Now floating before Ohannakeloi.

“It is most wonderful to see you, I have talked to only a few of our fellows since that time of our last meeting. Tell me do you know much of these islands before us, I had thought to visit them before heading north to Kalgrun as I believe it is called.” Ohannakeloi clicked one claw then the other as he spoke. “I plan to take a survey of much of Galbar before returning with what may be of use to Atokhekwoi, to enrich it you see. Enough of my ponderings, I can only imagine what great works you have wrought since I last saw you. What of you fair Orvus, what brings you here?”

Orvus relaxed visibly and cocked his head at the crab. "I see. It's good to see you as well. As for these islands, and as for why I am here, they are known as the Eye of Desolation. They are also my home and where my family lives. As for great works… Well I would have to say my daughters. They have far surpassed me as a being. But tell me, I never expected that you would want to fly up so high. Where have you come from and why have you built this Keep?" he asked softly.

“I must admit the answers to your two questions are but a singular one, Shengshi’s Jiangzhou. I have just stayed as a guest of his and I am most thoroughly impressed by his manner of living and his creation. So I have built a great structure of my own to occupy, as you can see it is not quite completely barren, I have yet to decide upon appropriate servants or furnishings for this place.” Ohannakeloi patted the rampart with his right claw, “And I contest that this is so high, it is at most a mountain’s distance which can be raised up in stone easily enough to be connected to Galbar once more. Oh but what am I saying speaking of keeps and mountains, you have family Great Orvus! You simply must tell me of them, to surpass you, you must be proud.”

The term of servants peaked Orvus’ interest, and he flew closer to his brother. ”I’ve been aboard the Jiangzhou, only once, and I must admit that Shengshi and I are not on the best of terms. It is good to know that you and he get along. But yes,” he mused, ”Arya and Laurien, Ava and Lily too, with my dear wife Rowan. An odd story of how we all came to be together, one that I will save for another time. If you had known my in the earlier days of Galbar, you would have thought me a monster. Yet, I was shown a better way, a way I never knew I wanted. Thus, Arya came first. To my regret, she and I have a rocky start, but now things are better. To put simply, they are better than me because they are kind, pure hearted souls who strive to better the world. I am very proud.” he said with a relaxed expression.

”I must say however, you seem to be in a predicament, so am I. How badly do you require servants? I have been thinking of an idea. A race of potential, but I do not know if I am capable of creating them alone. Perhaps it was fate that we met, right here, right now?” Orvus said, crossing his arms.

“Fate I wouldn’t know about, but I can say it does seem most fortunate. Tell me of this race, I am most interested in your proposal.”

”To truly understand what I am proposing, please, let us depart to my home. Along the way, I shall tell you.” Orvus said.

“Lead the way.”

”Now imagine this, a race of beings called Nebulites…” Orvus started before leading the way.

And so Orvus spoke as the two drifted closer to his home. He told Ohannakeloi of the Nebulites, what he envisioned and how they might interact with the world. He spoke with passion and what he imagined their future could be in the world. He also told his brother why he had thought of such an idea, and his problems at home. Ohannakeloi was most powerfully drawn in, he had not held much reservation before but to see his fellow god so impassioned weighted heavily to favor the proposed creation.

Ohannakeloi interrupted the other god, “I have heard enough good Orvus, I will help you bring forth these Nebulites.”

Orvus paused in his talk and looked at Ohannakeloi with thanks in his eye. ”Thank you, Ohannakeloi. This lifts a great burden off my shoulders. And of course, you may take as many as you like for your needs. Now come, we are almost there.” Orvus said, pointing to an island with large patches of cleared land.

As they drew closer, the island proper came into view. Fields and fields of beets, potatoes, rice, and yams could be seen sprouting. Wooden homes could also be seen, and from it, two figures fast approaching. One donned armor of white, wielding a sword of the same color. The other was black, cloaked and had a large sword at hand. As they came nearer, their swords were put away when they say Orvus beckoning to them. Orvus then turned to Ohannakeloi, ”Brother, I would like to introduce to you, Arya and Laurien.” he said gesturing to them. ”Girls, this is Ohannakeloi, God of Stone and he has come to help.”

As they neared, their demeanor changed to pure awe. Tears welled up in Arya’s eyes, and Laurien was slack jawed. Arya then blurted out, ”You’re so beautiful, your Holiness.” she said with a shaky voice. Laurien simply nodded her head slowly, as if words were lost to her.

“Why thank you, good Lady Arya.” Ohannakeloi turned to Orvus, shifting his weight on the wall. “Quite well mannered and kind I must say. And this now, armor and a weapon? Most well made I can tell, seemingly of your own essence, to protect them I would presume of you fair Orvus?”

Orvus gave his daughters a strange look but turned to Ohannakeloi and said, ”Yes, another project of mine. Something I learned from a very dear friend. The world needs protectors, God’s can’t be everywhere at once. Thus, Knights will be born into this world, and the Nebulites will be the first members, led by these two. The first of their kind, without even knowing it.” Orvus said.

Arya turned to give Laurien a look, but her sister did not exchange it. Her focus was still on Ohannakeloi. Thus Arya looked back, her eyes welling up again at the radiance of the crab god. ”What ever are you talking about, father? Nebulites? First of our kin- Oh...Oh!” and the sudden realization crossed her face. ”You can’t be serious!”

”But of course we are, my daughter. Ohannakeloi has agreed to help me create a race of beings in our images. With them, I can fix my mistakes upon bringing Rowan, Ava and Lily here.” Orvus said proudly.

Arya opened her mouth to say something, but instead nodded her head. Laurien, still looked up Ohannakeloi with awe in her eyes.

”Come! Let us touch earth and begin. I have words with Rowan and two surprises.” Orvus said.

So the party did just that. Orvus, Arya and Laurien led the way and touched down upon the soil, greeted by three more figures. Rowan, held onto Ava and Lily as the two squirmed in her grasp. They watched as the floating keep landed. Ohannakeloi had set down the Ihomakwoi a fair distance away, catching up relatively quickly as divine beings were wont to do. The keep had first made an impression into the earth with the bottom dome, and as that dome near complete submersion is suddenly steadied, the earth below being turned to stone to support the god’s residence.

When Ohannakeloi arrived next to Orvus, the three fell silent. Rowan looked up Ohannakeloi just as Laurien did, and with tears in her eyes. Ava and Lily, looked upon the crab with wide eyes full of excited wonder. They were giddy as any could be in the presence of such awe inspiring sight.

”Allow me to introduce my wife, Rowan and twins, Ava and Lily. Girls, this Ohannakeloi, God of Stone. He is here to help us.” Orvus said humbly.

The twins began to ask a plethora of questions at the crab, ranging from; ‘Why are you so shiny’, to ‘You’re the biggest crab I’ve seen!’ Meanwhile, Rowan began to cry white tears as she looked upon the crab and then back to Orvus with a look of confusion. ”Girls, girls, remember your manners. Is that any way to treat a guest?”

Ohannakeloi made a noise that could have been a laugh, “Its fine by far, brother.” Ohannakeloi tried to answer their questions or talk to them as fast as they could bring them up, “You know there are bigger crabs then I, I made them, they never stop growing as long as they live in fact.”

Orvus gave a very faint smile and walked over to his wife. He took her hands, releasing the girls who ran over to Ohannakeloi and began to prod him with even more questions. Arya and Laurien were speaking to each other as they watched their smaller sisters play. Orvus then looked Rowan in the eyes and said, ”I am sorry for what I did. I should have told you, or found a way to make it work.” he said, his voice full of sadness.

”Orvus… There’s a lot I don’t know about this world, or even about you, but the fact of the matter is this; I was upset, I still am, but not as I was. I forgive you husband. I understand why you did it, just please, never again. You have to tell me about these sort of things. Okay?” she said softly with a weak smile.

Orvus shook his head, ”You have my word, never again. Now, I have some gifts. One for you and the girls, one for all of you, and one for me. With the help of Ohannakeloi, I’m going to bring into this world a part of the old, and a part of the new.” He then turned to Ava and Lily. ”Girls! Come over here please.” With annoyed sighs they came over and stood next to Rowan. Orvus then smiled, and said, ”This gift is not so much a gift, but a birthright. One that you will not care for until you are older and capable.” Orvus then waved his hand over the trio and Rowan visibly gasped. The girls looked at their mother with concern but did not react like she did. Rowan then looked at Orvus with knowing eyes and a wide smile.

Orvus then backed away from them and turned to face Ohannakeloi. ”Are you ready, brother?” he asked.

Ohannakeloi snapped his left claw, “I am.”

Orvus then walked over to Ohannakeloi and placed a hand upon his carapace. Before them, an empty sky stretching on and on with potential. Both gods rose a free limb up into the sky and willed forth into reality, a people. The sky darkened and up above, Veradax hung dimly as always. It seemed to look down at them, unyielding as ever. Slowly, ever so slowly, the air began to shimmer, with dazzling lights, Pulsing, growing, beating- living. This shimmer took form, humanoid, shapely, with the colors of the stars. These forms condensed into black, reds, purples, blues, oranges and even yellows. White starlights appeared like a splattering of paint upon a canvas. Some had many, some had few, and some had none at all. Patterns and swirls of color formed, as lustrous hair took shape in all forms, some reflecting the same colors of the body and others completely different. Finer details then emerged, as the two genders became obvious, coming in all different heights and shapes but maintaining the same lithe form in some regard.

As the pulse beat even louder, they became known to the world as the rest of the shimmer took form in mundane clothing that covered sensitive parts. And then there was a loud bang, and the world returned with its light. Orvus let his hand fall from Ohannakeloi, feeling briefly drained, but he still looked upon his newest creations. There were thousands of them, and they hovered in the air, oblivious to the world as they slept. Before waking them, Orvus turned around to see the shocked faces of his family, and with a snap, he linked Rowan, Ava and Lily to the Nebulite race. Almost immediately Rowan began to float. Her eyes bugged out as she flailed. Orvus could not help but chuckle as Arya and Laurien helped her, and Ava and Lily complained.

Orvus then turned to Ohannakeloi and said, ”Shall we wake them, brother?”

“It does not do much good if we don’t.”

As the two gods willed, the many thousands began to wake. Ohannakeloi spoke, echoing and emphasizing the knowledge they had implanted in their joint creations. “You are Nebulites! The creations of Orvus and Ohannakeloi, born from the mind of Orvus but jointly formed by our two divine selves.”

Ohannakeloi continued to speak, his sense of presence and his aura helping to forestall any chaos that may occur from sudden existence. “You are made in the image of others and are a people on Galbar, you have within you some knowledge of yourselves, this world and the divinities. Among you are a few who shall travel with me, and the majority shall stay with Orvus and the first of your people. Those who wish to travel with me can go to my keep, Ihomakwoi, over there.”

All Nebulites held eyes upon their makers, with quiet gasps of excitement and joy. Many looked touched their faces and bodies and marveled at the sensations. When Ohannakeloi willed, so too did the Nebulites go who were chosen. They flew to his keep, a perfect sizing, half and half of both sexes to go wherever Ohannakeloi went. The rest that remained looked upon them with curious eyes.

Orvus then spoke, ”Know this, you that remain, this is the beginning of your lives. And I shall teach you many things. Enjoy this day, for it is yours. Tomorrow, the real work begins.” he said before turning to Ohannakeloi. ”Thank you, for helping me, Ohannakeloi. If you ever have a need, do not hesitate to ask. I shall help you if I am able.” Some of the nebulites began to land, while others still hovered above. There was a great amount of curiosity within them, as they learned about each other.

“I did only what any of our fellows should have done in such a position. I am not above taking your offer however, if a time should come I should be glad to count upon you.” Orvus nodded in return.

It was then that Arya and Laurien walked by, with tears streaming down both their faces. They bowed before Ohannakeloi. Arya then lifted her head to say, ”I never thought… Thank you. The both of you. We have a people now.” Laurien then lifted her head and said, ”Thank you, this is… Beautifully wonderful.” They then slowly rose and wandered off into the crowds, to be welcomed with open arms. Rowan, Ava and Lily then arrived before the two gods. Rowan carried with her a look of awe, same as the twins.

”That was… Simply incredible. I-I hardly have words… It was just so… so… so." she stammered. Orvus placed his hand upon her cheek and caressed it gently. ”There’s more. I know how important our old look was, so-” and a flash of light enveloped Orvus, only to fade a moment later. Before them stood a man, bearded, slightly aged, and with a warm smile upon his lips. It was a form Rowan knew all too well. ”What do you think?” Once again, Rowan was speechless, but Ava and Lily wasted no time in tackling him.

“Dad! You look like you again!” Lily exclaimed happily.

“Yeah!” Ava followed, “And you have lips again!”

Orvus chuckled loudly, and embraced both of them, and when he did they too changed. Their starry forms molded away to bring forth pink flesh and green eyes with chestnut hair. Lily’s face was coated with freckles, while Ava’s was not. That was their only identifying mark, for they looked the same. They both looked at each other and pointed, shouting, “You look like you again!”

Orvus then turned to Rowan who had tears streaming down her cheeks, with a small smile on her lips. Orvus then hugged his wife, and so too did her form change as well. Her mahogany hair bloomed, as she pulled away to look at her husband with her amber colored eyes. She then kissed him, long and deep. When they pulled away from each other, Rowan said, ”I’ve been waiting to do that since I woke up.” she giggled. Orvus couldn’t help but smile and said, ”There’ll be plenty more where that came from.” he then gave her another quick peck before turning to Ohannakeloi.

”How do I look?” he asked.

“Good I suppose, you look like Aelius, K’nell, Chopstick Eyes and all the rest that keep that strange bipedal form. I mean bipedalism is quite useful I admit but I hardly see what all this uniformity has to do with it.”

Orvus chuckled, ”It will do. Now come, let us mingle with our creations.” he said, looping his arm with Rowan’s. He then took Ava’s hand and Rowan took Lily’s as they wandered off into the crowd with Ohannakeloi.









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Hidden 1 mo ago 1 day ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Meaning of Love


Wenbo knew not quite how long he had walked. The meadows and fields had sort of floated by, much like the lazy clouds above, until his aching feet brought him to the familiar hilltop. An itch gnawed at his cheek and he raised a pair of fingers to sate it. As he pulled away, he noticed a moist, chilling sensation on them - he was apparently in tears. With a snort and a few blinks, he rubbed the moisture out of his eyes. Covering one of them in a facepalming manner, his other, orange-ringed eye fell on a small dent in the flower patches. He sighed to himself and sat himself down in the dent, plucking for himself a small straw to chew on. He surveyed the landscape:

As far as his eyes could see, flowers and grasses of a thousand different shades and colours bloomed and thrived, reflecting the light of heaven in the form of a rainbow of beauty and life. Insects buzzed sweetly from petal to petal and had sweet little debates about the mathematical perfection of hexagonal structures in beeswax. The crops throughout the valleys he could see all danced with the breeze in sweet idyll. Even the trees, in spite of their wooden appearance, seemed to enjoy themselves.

Perhaps he truly was insane. How could he consider leaving a place like this? All for… For something they always had had. He rested his forehead in his palm and groaned quietly. He had made such a fool out of himself in front of everyone - in front of K’nell!

How could he face them now?

His eyes ran down the side of the hill and fell upon his house. From his angle, he could just barely see the far edge of the shrine wall.

It wouldn’t be easy. One does not simply decline a divine request - especially not from his mother’s creator. He would need a reason; a single ‘no’ would be much too impolite.

Chagatai had the right idea: The truth prevails, always.

He put his palms on the ground to push himself up, but stopped. Could he truly do this? Denying the great Shengshi His wish? What would happen to him if he did? What would happen to his family? His future? His people’s future?

He intertwined his fingers together in his lap and closed his eyes with a sigh. They had everything here - safety, food, family. Here, on their ancestral land of Tendlepog, they had a life…

Except…

His eyes gazed skyward. He could not help but wonder if there existed others creatures out there, beyond the cliffs and the endless blue sea, or if that perhaps was the reason they had been summoned.

Did the Dreamers even look up at the same sky as the rest of the world did? If so, did it look the same all over the world?

Wenbo had subconsciously laid himself down in the grass, his eyes gazing unmovingly at the heavens above. Was there grass elsewhere in the world? Did the land feel the same to his feet on as it did here?

He took out the walnut-sized stalkplum from the fold in his robe. Did they grow elsewhere, too, outside of Tendlepog?

As his mind fell deeper and deeper into the well of though, his eyelids grew heavy and before long, Wenbo had fallen asleep.




“Hey... Wenbo?”

Wenbo’s eyes snapped open and he sat up much like the swing of a catapult arm. He took a few startled breaths and scanned the surroundings. The familiar hills had been cast in the crimson of sunset, and tall trees cast even greater shade across the drowsy plains. However, something was off.

Very off.

Wenbo lifted his hands off the grass. They were wrinkled and dripping, as if he had kept them underwater for hours. He then noticed that he was indeed sitting up to his hips in deep, black water. He scurried to his feet, but found himself unable to move them. With frustrated groans, he rolled over and began to claw his way towards higher ground, but the further he climbed, the more clearly he saw what held him back: A thousand hands gripped his ankles tightly. The air reeked sharply of rot and salt, and as his struggles waned, his groans were deafened by thundering waves breaking upon approaching cliffs.

Wenbo dared look over his shoulder as the horizon cast him over the moving mountains, past the endless dunes of sand, and onto the giant cliffs above the sea. He was suddenly completely dry - much too dry, in fact. His skin began to shrivel and blister before his eyes, the wounds spurting forth squirts of wet sand. Soon enough, his limbs turned from muscle and bone to water and sand, and before him spawned an enormous, snake-like beast of pure gold. Wenbo swallowed, his new watery form making that particularly hard, and the beast gave him a bow. Wenbo bowed back.

“Wenbo!”

Wenbo turned around. He saw his house before the rising dawn, red, white and yellow rays bathing the humble shack in enough light to nearly set it aflame. Wenbo reached out to push aside the curtain in the doorway, and the house approached and obliged. As he stepped inside, the house expanded immensely, until Wenbo was the size of a flea in comparison. All the furniture disappeared. All that remained inside was himself - alone. Then he became just tall enough to reach a basket that was conveniently placed on top of the nearby moving mountain. Wenbo opened the basket and peaked inside to find that it contained his entire family, all smiling lovingly at him.

Wenbo felt a pang in his chest and tears formed in the corners of his eyes. A single tear dropped into the basket and the scenery changed again, this time to a completely circular pond, next to which sat a two-horned snake and a white skin ball with a creepy smile drawn on it in charcoal. Wenbo found himself standing next to the snake and the ball and gave them each a curious look. The ball gave him a wink. “Do you?” it asked.

“Do I what?”

“A THOUSAND FAMILIES!” the snake suddenly screamed at the top of its little lungs, nearly sending Wenbo into orbit. He did come pretty close, though, and as Wenbo drifted there above the clouds, he felt suddenly a soft, icky sensation eel its way across his cheek. Before him, a cloud metamorphosed into an eye, which then split into two eyes and flew above Wenbo to stare down at him.

“Are you even listening?” the eyes asked.

Wenbo frowned. “Am I--”

SMACK!




Wenbo snapped his eyes open yet again, only this time his hands were considerably drier while not quite having reached the consistency of quoll jerky. His head rubbernecked about in several directions, taking multiple tries before noticing the frown above him.

“Oh. Sorry, I fell asleep,” Wenbo said with a weak smile.

“I could tell,” Ai replied with a sigh. She patted the grass and flowers next to her husband and sat herself down beside him, staring forward at the horizon. Wenbo snorted with a wrinkle of the nose and twiddled his thumbs together.

“So…” he eventually said. “How was the feast?”

“It was great. We missed you a great deal,” Ai replied monotonously. Wenbo swallowed.

“Th-that’s good to hear. I’m sorry I didn’t come. I--”

“Had to go sulk?”

“I was going to say ‘think’, dear.”
Ai scoffed. “Like you thought your speech through?”

Wenbo deflated. “Ai, could you please avoid bringing that up--”

Ai held up a finger and Wenbo quieted down instantly. “No. No, I don’t think I will. What happened, Wenbo? You presented it so well to us. What changed? Crowds have never been a problem for you before. Was it God’s presence?”

Wenbo sucked in a breath and looked sideways. Ai nodded. “Alright. So now that you’re name’s sullied and you have been portrayed as a selfish fool, what will you do?”

“I’m not selfish!”

“Well, you sure sounded that way!” Ai gestured in the direction she had come from. “Everyone there thinks that the only reason you want to leave is to go on some childish, reckless adventure - and that those who go along will forever be shut off from their homes, they families, their futures.”

“Ai, you--...” Wenbo pulled some desperate breaths. “You believe me, right? You believe me when I say I want to leave not just for the wonders, but for the good of our family - our people?”

Ai looked away. Wenbo took her hand. “Ai, please.”

“We already have it well here… What could there possibly be outside that we don’t have here?”

“Ai, can’t you feel it? Tendlepog is safe and, and beautiful, but… We’re not free here.”

Ai frowned. “What do you mean? Of course, we are.”

Wenbo shook his head. “I should rephrase that - we are free here, but not free to go anywhere but here.” Ai’s frown faded a little and Wenbo gestured to the distant, dark mountains. “Look, beyond those lazily drifting tops, there is nothing but endless desert - it’s impossible to pass through without the Warden’s consent, and he only answers to God.” He then gestured to the opposite direction. “Then there’s the Forbidden Forest, which we are not allowed to enter. We have ourselves a space in between.”

“Our space is massive, Wenbo! You have never even seen the other side of the continent!”

Wenbo nodded. “You’re right. I haven’t, and if I explored my whole life, I certainly wouldn’t be able to see it all… But what about my children, and their children, and their children’s children. How many generations will pass before all of Tendlepog is explored?”

Ai took his hands in her own. “All too many, Wenbo - you’re thinking about hundreds, if not thousands of years from now! Are you really so sick of this land that you want to go out into a spiteful, unloving wilderness we only know from stories? Mom and mother probably even altered those stories to make them seem less gruesome!”

Wenbo looked to be digging desperately for a proper retort, but the look in Ai’s tired eyes shut him up. He hung his head forward and caressed his wife’s hand absent-mindedly. Ai, too, let out an exhausted sigh and rested her head on his shoulder. For a long while, they sat in silence, disturbed only by beautiful birdsong, which Wenbo was a bit sad to realise was quite an intense lover’s quarrel.

As the seconds turned into minutes, and the sunset grew ever dimmer, Wenbo asked, “Do you remember the first time we came here?”

Ai let out a single snore and smacked her lips a little. “Sorry, I must’ve dozed off. Did you say anything?”

Wenbo gave her a smile and planted a soft peck on the top of her head. “I asked if you remember the first time we came here?”

Ai let out a soft “oh” and made herself comfortable on his shoulder once more. “I do - quite clearly, as a matter of fact. I was sixteen and had only just come back from our trip to the clay pits. You asked me to meet you here, and when I came, you presented me with this necklace.” She patted a bluestone-tipped necklace around her neck, strung with a length of woolen thread. She then looked up and kissed him on the cheek. “Then you asked me to marry you.”

Wenbo giggled triumphantly to himself. “You have no idea how nervous I was. I had climbed mountain walls, snuck into the Forbidden Forest, confronted mother - but none of it had ever made me as scared or nervous as that moment did.” He hooked an arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer. “But I owe that moment everything - my children, my house, my fields… All exist because you were there.”

Ai blinked and giggled. “Is flattery your new strategy, great Thinker?”

“No, I’m serious, Ai - without you, I… I would be entirely different; my life would be entirely different.”

Ai snickered. “Yeah, you would’ve ended up with Bayarmaa instead.”

Wenbo rolled his eyes playfully. “I would’ve, yes, but didn’t - ‘cause she was much too outclassed by--” He poked her nose and pecked her on the cheek. “You.”

Once more, Ai giggled, and despite her ageing appearance, Wenbo only saw the smile of the beauty from the decades past. She collected herself again. “Alright, out with it. What’re you trying to get at? Are you trying to flatter me into going off on that wacky adventure with you? Because my mind is set in that regard.”

Wenbo nodded slowly. “I know… And that’s what hurts the most about the whole thing, really.”

Ai’s smile faded a little and her brows furrowed together. “Heh. What do you mean by that?”

Wenbo sucked in a slow breath. “Life here on Tendlepog really only has any value to me because of you and my family… Chagatai… Li… Temüjin… Bayarmaa… The paradise we are surrounded by is beautiful, idyllic.” He then shook his head slowly. “However, the shock of leaving that behind cannot even begin to compare to that of who I would be leaving.”

Ai narrowed her eyes and pulled away from Wenbo’s shoulder. “You’re… You’re going all the same, aren’t you?”

Wenbo didn’t look back at her, but kept his eyes looking forward at nothing in particular. “Yeah… Yeah, I’m going.”

Ai’s face drained of what little colour it had and her black eyes began to glisten with moisture despite the evening darkness. She pulled her knees to her torso and wrapped her arms around them. “You’ve always been like this.”

Wenbo nodded slowly. “I’m sorry, Ai, I--”

“No! No, you’ve always been like this! You’ve always gone out on crazy, stupid adventures with your brother, or with our son, or even on your own - and every time, you’ve come home either bloody or broken or gods know what else!” Ai stood up and Wenbo reached out to her.

“Ai, I--”

“But you’ve always come home!” Ai sobbed loudly and Wenbo pulled back. His wife dragged the tears out of her eyes with the back of her sleeve and grit her teeth together. “Every single time, you’ve come home to me - but this time, that’s not possible!” She kept rubbing her eyes as if drying up a deluge. “How can you do this to me, Wen-Wen? Your own wife?”

Wenbo grit his own teeth and stood up. “Ai, it’s because I need to see the world! It’s like God said, it, it’s in my blood!”

“No, Wenbo! You belong here - with me.” Ai shuffled over and embraced the frowning Wenbo. “With all of us…”

Wenbo sighed and embraced her back. “Ai, don’t-... Don’t make this harder than it alread--”

“I won’t let you - what part of that don’t you understand?!” She glared tearfully into his eyes.

“I don’t care! If you’re not coming with me, then, then--!”

Ai’s glare immediately became a shocked gape. She clung tighter to the folds of Wenbo’s robe. “Then what? Then what?!”

Wenbo himself was now desperately holding back tears, and utterly failing. He took Ai’s hands by the wrists and calmly pulled them away from his robe, Ai staring in disbelief all the while. He shot a look down the hillside where the Garden shone a bleak light onto the roof of his cabin. He looked back at Ai, who shook her head at him.

“Don’t… Please don’t,” she begged.

Wenbo let go of her wrists and set off into a sprint down the hill. As he ran, he heard Ai screaming his name after him, tears clogging up her throat on multiple occasions. He could not let that stop him now - he would see the world beyond; he would see all of it; he would--

He slipped on the dew-moistened grass and crashed into the mud. Behind him, he heard approaching footsteps. He rushed back to his feet and kept running. A pain stung him. His leg - it bled. He cursed under his breath, but nonetheless persevered towards the wall of shrines.

“Wenbo!” he heard from behind. It stung worse than the pain, but he kept up his accelerated limp. He could see it clearly now - the shrine to Shengshi. Once he reached it and said his prayer, it would be done. He would be in His hands and due for transport upon His arrival. He knelt down beside the shrine and folded his hands.

“O blessed Sheng--”

Ai tackled him to the ground. Wenbo struggled, but his wife planted a well-placed smack on his cheek that very nearly knocked him out cold. As he weakly shook his head to recover, Ai grabbed him by the folds of his robe and lifted him up a little, her alabaster hair hanging down over his face.

“Are you insane?!” she bellowed straight at his face. Wenbo didn’t answer. Ai adjusted her position a little to regain balance and accidentally planted her knee on Wenbo’s wound, inciting a sharp groan. The rage in Ai’s face subsided and she looked down at the bloody bruise. She then pressed her lips together and sniffed. “Look at you… Can’t even run fifty feet without getting yourself hurt.” Ai shot the shrine to Shengshi a look and then shot one at Wenbo as well.

“Don’t you even dare to move,” she snapped. Then she stood up and walked inside their shack. Wenbo laid in the moist grass, still recovering from the blow. He snorted and realised he was tasting blood. The outside world truly had nothing on Ai when it came to danger.

She came out the house again, carrying a small pot of salves and a roll of woolen bandages. As she bandaged Wenbo’s leg, the ageing dreamer let out a relieved sigh. “... I wouldn’t even last a day out there, would I?”

“Doubt it,” Ai teased. She tied the bandage together tightly and poked at it until Wenbo groaned for her to stop. She gave him a weak, slightly sadistic smile and looked back at the shrine. “You’re really that set on going, huh?” she said somberly.

Wenbo sat himself up and sighed. “Yeah… Sorry, Ai, but you can’t stop me.”

She shook her head. “That snapping stubbornness of yours is going to be the death of you, I swear…” She sucked in a breath and paused for a long time, so long that Wenbo thought she had started crying again. However, eventually, she let out a single word: “Fine.”

Wenbo frowned. “Fine what?”

“Fine. I’ll go with you.”

Wenbo furrowed his brow. “Ai, are you serious?”

“When am I not?” she retorted. Wenbo took her hand in his own.

“You know as well as I do what you will be leaving behind - what’s at stake.”

“Yes, I know that perfectly well.”

Wenbo glared at her. “You’ve spent all evening scolding me for my choice to leave, and now you suddenly change your mind? What, after I get a little bruised--ow!”

Ai poked him on the wound again and Wenbo shut himself up. “Oh, don’t think for a second that I’m taking any of that back. I am furious, livid that you’re going through with this. Still…” She pursed her lips. “... What would my life be without you?”

Wenbo drew a quivering breath. “I…”

“No, I won’t give you a say in this, either. If you’re so snapping determined to leave me behind, then I might as well come with you. I am your wife; if I don’t support you in this, who will?”

Wenbo looked away sheepishly. “That’s a little cold.”

“Well, boo-hoo, it’s the truth,” Ai replied snarkily. “Now, tell Shengshi you accept.”

Wenbo nodded with a wry frown. “He prefers ‘His Lordship’, actually.” Ai rolled her eyes.

“I’m sure he does.”

Wenbo made a face and crawled over to the nearby shrine. He cleaned himself up the best he could, shuffled his knees into a proper stance with some wincing due to the cut, and bent his head.
“Great Lord Shengshi… This servant Wenbo has made a decision on His Lordship’s magnificent proposal.”

For a moment, there was no response. Ai peeked over his shoulder at the shrine. “Consider being a little more sincere. You’re being unnecessarily humble.”

Wenbo waved for her to quiet down. “Trust me, He prefers it that way.”

As soon as he finished, a warmth embraced the two, characterised with a dense humidity and a faint scent of chlorophyll. A liquid sound trickled in the background, along with a few plucks on what they could only guess was the string of a harp.

“... Aaah… Wenbo. After all these weeks, I was beginning to think you were not going to call me at all.” The deep, oily voice of the snake felt as though it came from every direction simultaneously. Ai had assumed a personality completely opposite of the one before - now, she appeared to be cowering behind Wenbo. The voice took note.

“This must be your wife - oh, I am so glad Xiaoli introduced to you all my little marriage experiment. Tell me, dear, what is your name?”

Ai looked at the shrine with a frozen expression. The clay bowl of river water looked back with oppressive interest. She felt fear clog up the words in her throat, another thing the voice took note of, remarked with a sigh.

“See, Wenbo, this is what I told you about before - most mortals simply freeze up when they are first exposed to a divine voice. It is so inconvenient…”

“Ai, Your Lordship,” she finally managed. “I’m Ai.”

There came a monotonous hum. “Try again.”

“Wha…?”

“Like I did,” Wenbo whispered loudly. “Like mother taught us.”

Ai mouthed a ‘really’, to which the voice responded. “Really.” She swallowed and once again began to unclog her throat. “Th-this servant is named Ai, Y-your Lordship,” she eventually said.

There came an audible nod. “Very good, very good. Oh, you two certainly make a lovely couple. I simply cannot wait to see the little children, as well! I have already found you a perfect spot, far to the south. It is out of the worst heat and very much safe from all manners of attacks. It will simply be perfect for you.”

Wenbo gave Ai a sheepish look. There came another hum, slightly disappointed in nature. “I sense that you are about to suggest some alterations to my proposal.”
Wenbo took a breath, failed to formulate a sentence, then took another. “Your Lordship - this servant failed to convince the others of the grandeur of His Lordship’s proposal. If this one may be so frank, many believe the gifts offered do not outweigh the dangers of the outside world. Much of what His Lordship promised, the Dreamers are already accustomed to.”

The voice was silent. Wenbo continued. “No dreamer has known a day of starvation in their lives so far; no dreamer thirsts for neither water nor wine; and no dreamer is short on wealth. Tendlepog is, to most, a paradise.”

There came a quiet hiss and an invisible, oppressive glare bore down on the two. Still, there was no rage in the voice when it spoke, “I see… I will be honest, I had not expected the living standards there to be so… Well, perfect. Then again, my dearest brother K’nell is a crafty fellow.” The voice hummed for so long it began to sound like purring. Wenbo and Ai exchanged terrified looks. Then the hums stopped.

“Oh, very well,” the snake said eventually. “I will grant any who come with me another blessing. In addition to everything mentioned before (the wealth, the crops and all that), I will bestow upon you one more favour.”

Ai and Wenbo looked at the incorporeal eyes expectantly. The voice then went, “... What is it that you are missing?”

Wenbo looked to Ai, who nodded reassuringly back. “Well,” he said, “when we suggested leaving, God came to us and warned us that it is possible that, if we leave, we may never return. In a sense, we are, well, trapped here.”

“Being trapped in paradise cannot be so bad?” the voice suggested a little sarcastically.

“No, no - it isn’t - but we’re still trapped,” Wenbo insisted. “Sure, we can walk Tendlepog for eternity and never explore or populate it fully, but we can never leave and see the wonders of the outside world - and if we do, we may never return to see our loved ones.”

The snake hummed in understanding. “So it is freedom you want?”

Wenbo nodded. “We want to be able to go wherever we want, whenever we want. We want to explore, see the world, and live as inhabitants of this universe, not as people of a continent.”

“I see… Would flight satisfy your needs?”

Wenbo looked at Ai, who shook her head. “Your Lordship is most generous; however, flight alone may only scratch part of the itch.”

The snake hummed inquisitively. “Go on.”

“His Lordship sees the bonds we tie with our families and friends. We would like to travel the world without sacrificing those bonds. All Dreamers should travel as one great flock, migrating from land to land as one great family - exploring in the day and telling stories around a fire at night.”

The snake hissed pensively. “I see… So any solution that lets all Dreamers travel freely as one across great distances would be satisfactory?”

“Travel comfortably,” Ai added. The snake clicked his tongue in a surly manner.

“Alright, be orderly, please. Do not interject your demands so rashly. Very well, though - travel comfortably, you shall. Anything else you would like this solution to incorporate?”

“If His Lordship could let us travel the land as well as the sea using this solution, these servants would be incredibly grateful,” Wenbo added.

“Gratitude will be expected for certain,” the snake muttered. “I take it you would prefer sustenance, shelter, water and safety to be included as well?”

“Does His Lordship really mean that?” Ai asked.

“Of course, I mean it,” Shengshi retorted. “I hope you are not assuming I am only doing this for myself.”

They both waved their hands. “Of course not, Your Lordship!” Wenbo and Ai assured in unison.

“Good,” the voice hissed. “I suppose I now have to remove the clause regarding permanent settlement, as well…” Shengshi muttered quietly to himself. “No matter. I shall change it to this: In return for my gift, your settlement shall forever be loyal to me. Not a day shall pass without prayer, and once every three moons, you shall sacrifice to me a small portion of your harvest. Do this, and the gift, in addition to all aforementioned blessings, are yours. Tell your people of these new terms and see if they are more inclined to come.”

Wenbo and Ai nodded slowly. “Of course, Your Lordship,” Wenbo said. “But… What if they still won’t listen?”

Shengshi sighed. “Then I will make due with those that do. As long as I have two specimen of separate genders, it will be enough. However, a more natural migration is preferred - for both you and me.”

Ai placed a hand on her abdomen and shook her head at Wenbo. “We shall do our best to at least bring along our own family, then, Your Lordship,” Wenbo promised.

“That is good. Make certain it is not by force, though - I reckon my brother already has shared his thoughts on that subject.”
“Of course, Your Lordship,” Wenbo assured.

“Well, then - best of luck… My grandchildren.” They could nearly feel a cosmic blink as the voice disappeared. Wenbo looked at Ai, who was still in recovery behind his back.

“Hey, you alright?”

Ai blinked a few times and gave him a weak frown. “Y-yeah… Wow, I understand now why you were so enthusiastic after the first time he had talked to you. His presence is so… Different from God’s.”

“Yeah,” Wenbo agreed. “Yeah, it really is.”

Ai put her tired head on his shoulder. “So… What now? Are we gathering everyone again?”

Wenbo shook his head. “No, I’ll go to each of our siblings one by one… But we’ll start here at home.”

Ai looked concerned. “Do you think Ren will come along?”

“... I don’t know,” Wenbo admitted.

For a while, the two remained there in front of the shrines, planning what to do before the sky would rip asunder.



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

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Karamir

&
Arryn





"So why are you here?"

They had followed the Warden for some time, as he led them away from Limbo. Now, the Warden had parted ways, leaving Karamir and Arryn to their own devices. Karamir had more or less remained silent during the journey, but now that they were alone and had stopped for a rest, he finally decided to say what was on his mind.

Arryn, on the stump of a recently fallen tree, quirked his head. "My master told me to find you."

"Why?" Karamir asked next.

Arryn shrugged. "You had not contacted him in decades. He wanted to know what became of you."

"Why couldn't he contact me himself?" Karamir demanded.

"Why didn't you just contact him?"

Karamir sighed, and he knew he was beaten there. He couldn't criticize Kalmar for not reaching out - not without criticizing himself, for he was guilty of the same. He changed tactics. "So why send you instead of appearing himself?"

"He had other business to attend to." Arryn replied.

"Like what?" Karamir asked, eyes narrowing.

"Many decades ago, I take it you met a bird that gave you a message?"

Karamir nodded. It was such a distant memory. At the time, he had been confused. Kalmar had not told him what awaited people after death. Yet the broadcast claimed that all souls burned and suffered. If the broadcast was to be believed, of course. At the time Karamir couldn't help but note how, despite claiming to want to save souls, Azura had allowed a soul to be burned simply to demonstrate what the Pyres did. Furthermore, she herself had admitted she violated the free will of the souls who were already at the Pyres, which suggested she might do it again. And so he was left with two options: either allow his soul to be burned, or blindly trust himself to a mysterious unknown god who would freeze him forever, where who knows what could happen.

In all honesty, he hadn't been sure which one was better, and after a time it had faded from his mind as the more pressing details of everyday life took precedent over his distant demise. He had almost forgotten about it, and to have it suddenly brought up after all this time got him off guard.

"Well, you might not know this, but much of that message consisted of lies and half-truths. The intent was to manipulate the viewer. Katharsos burns souls so that they can make new souls; without him we would have no functioning souls at all. Most beings, yourself included, are a product of this system. But for some reason Azura finds it appalling. Now, our creator seeks to track the birds down to their source and see what can be done about this so-called 'Soul Crisis.' Which, frankly, only became a crisis because Azura made it into one." There was a great deal of annoyance in the bird's voice.

"You seem to have a great dislike for this Azura," Karamir noted.

Arryn nodded. "I do. She speaks of free will, only to admit to violating it. She claims she wants mortals to see the truth, yet resorts to lies and manipulation. She claims she wants to save all, yet I watched one of her Alma shoot a fleeing man in the back as he tried to get his family to safety."

Karamir blinked. That sounded... horrible. "So she is not to be trusted, then."

Arryn nodded. "She is not to be trusted," the Avatar confirmed.

"So those are our only options, then?" Karamir wondered. "Burn into nothingness or fall asleep into nothingness? Is there no alternative?"

Arryn shrugged. "The only known alternative is to allow yourself to decay into madness. If there was any other way, I'm sure that Katharsos or the Architect would have found it."

Karamir frowned. Must a world filled with gods who can make and shape it as they see fit deal in such absolutes? Even if Azura's intentions were true, her way could still turn out to be a dead-end. Meanwhile, Katharsos's system was functioning but it left nothing to look forward to after death. At the same time, however... Karamir was created from the soul ash produced by Katharsos's pyres. If Azura had her way from the beginning, then he never would have been allowed to exist - neither would Atalantia, Pyrdon, Diana, Arryn, or Arya. "I see..." he said, as that realization dawned.

If the Sky of Pyres had created him, in a sense, then perhaps it would be fitting if he ultimately returned there. If souls had been burned to create him and many others, then wouldn't it only be fair if they suffered the same fate? On other other hand, could it also be said that he had no obligation to the thing that created him when he never asked to be created in the first place?

With a sigh, Karamir rose to his feet. It seemed as if there was still much that needed to be learned before he could decide which course he truly favoured. Fortunately, his death was a long way off, so it was not something he needed to contemplate any time soon. He picked a direction at random and began walking.

Arryn followed, perching on Karamir's shoulder.

"So now that you found me, why are you continuing to follow me?" Karamir questioned.

"To make sure you don't get yourself killed."

He scowled at that. "Kalmar gave me what I needed to survive on my own."

Arryn was not satisfied by that. "When I followed your trail, I noticed that you walked with an avatar. And when I found you, you had exited the gateway of another god's sphere. When was the last time you were truly alone?"

"Doesn't matter," Karamir dismissed the question. "What was it you did to me back there? I feel..."

"...smarter, stronger, faster, taller," Arryn interrupted. "Your soul is also fortified against decay, your body will no longer age, and you can go longer without food or sleep. Our creator told me to do it."

"He did?" Karamir asked, wide-eyed. Kalmar had made it abundantly clear that he did not wish to expend the effort necessary to give Karamir a longer life. So what changed?

"He had a change of heart," Arryn explained.

Another surprise. Even in Karamir's limited interaction with others, Kalmar had never struck him as someone who was easily moved. Still, he did not let this surprise show. The revelation was still sinking in... he was fortified against soul decay, and his body would never age. He need not fear death. Not natural death, at least. And although he was more than a head taller, he had already gotten used to walking around with his enhanced height.

"So you're just going to keep following me around, then?" Karamir asked next.

"Yes. Do you have a problem with that?"

Karamir took some to think about that. "No," he said. "I have some questions..."






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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Frettzo
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Li’Kalla Lithókóllēs

Goddess of Rain
MP 19 FP 8

and some architect dude





It-

She.

She was dead. Definitely. One hundred percent dead.

She had died six times over. Six times! Or had she? She couldn’t have, as the splitting pain she felt inside her skull showed her otherwise.

She saw black, she felt nothing but chills, cold sweat and that terrible brainpain.

Then feeling came back slowly, and her throat was burning and every single organ inside her body felt on fire and as if they had just been shredded and sewn back together.

On her hands and knees she was, until her arms buckled and she had to support herself on her elbows, and she felt her forearms come into contact with a warm liquid.

She could smell now, and it wasn’t pleasant. A gag escaped her mouth, but nothing came up from her stomach. It smelled acrid, corrosive, and like something had died and had been a feast for bacteria for at least a week. Maybe herself? No.

Her sight came back, and with it she finally recognized what she was on top of.

A lukewarm puddle of bodily fluids of all kinds. Sticky and non-sticky alike, vital and non-vital. There was lots of blood, of course, as well as what seemed to be vomit and… water.

She racked her brain for information. Nothing came up, of course, so she nodded her head with a small “Hm,” and pushed her torso up so she’d be sitting on her ankles.

Weak as she was, she could manage that. She couldn’t see much around her, as it was dark, and yet she could still see everything.

A large statue of a cyclops sat down in a humongous throne (it was a rather lame excuse for a throne, she thought, very plain-looking), its one eye seeming to stare directly at her, traces of pure, unadulterated Divine energy dancing across its fingertips.

“Ah… Hey, what’s me?” She asked the statue, and after a second of silence, a subtle flow of rainwater washed away the filth coating her body, “... That’s better. Also, what is me? What am I?”

The unnaturally large pupil of the statue audibly contracted a hand's width. A voice filled every space in the empty air with two slow words.

"Li'Kalla Lithókóllēs."

The message sprung together memories only halfway through its dictum. Too much was new and unknown.

"There is no novelty in your flesh excepting its arrangement."

With that, the great eye relaxed.

Li’Kalla looked at her body and furrowed her brow, noticing tiny, minuscule cracks filled in with cement going along its form. Each of the cracks throbbed with foreign energy and they felt more like bindings than anything else. ”Li’Kalla… Hey, I can’t really be that pathetic girl. I’m not the kind of girl who’d enjoy being stepped on. As the god of gods or whatever, give me my real memories now, alright? It’s not the time for jokes,” She sighed and shook her head, stealing a glance at the puddle beneath and around her, her nose scrunching up in disgust, ”I just threw up tons of blood, and probably did some nastier things as well that you’re very kindly not mentioning, so… No jokes.” She frowned and looked away, crossing her arms.

The statue remained still as a sarcophagus. The feeling of the eye tracing every single hint of movement down to the twitching of Li'Kalla's fingers did not line up.

"You do not require them," the room-filling voice stated. "Create new memories, if you are compelled to have them. Your purpose is unfulfilled."

Li’Kalla didn’t like this. She huffed and sneaked glances at the vast empty hallway. Why did he have to show off so much? Having your voice come from everywhere at once was so unnecessary!

”And what’s that, if I may ask? I can’t fulfill a purpose I don’t know about, God-dad.”

It was almost more surprising to hear the grinding of stone off to Li'Kalla's left. A disturbance put little shuddering waves in the water around its source. A pale shape refracted by the water broke the surface, parting sheets of water off its flat upper-side. A familiar crystal platform slowed to a stop near enough for Li'Kalla to step upon.

"To use the power you are bestowed."

”Ah, makes sense.” Li’Kalla relaxed and stood up, then quietly floated onto the crystal platform. She stood there for a moment before turning to the mess she’d made while getting remade and stretching her hand towards it. It was all gathered in a sphere in the air and, with a snap of her fingers, disappeared. ”There you go! Did you like that? Now you don’t need to hire a servant. Now, take me to Orvus and Silver’s farm.”

The statue sat facing Li'Kalla without having moved. The voice of the Architect said nothing. The crystal, slowly ascending, found the ceiling of the dark chamber parting as it had long ago. Li'Kalla found herself out in the space between spheres. The barrier loomed behind her, and the distant sphere of Galbar shone with the reflected light of Heliopolis.

’I guess some of those memories might be true. They might be mine…’ The new goddess Li’Kalla thought, sitting down with her legs dangling off the edge of the crystal. ’... I can’t believe I would let myself get bedded by a woman though. She was nice but, I mean, ugh. What’s the point of that?’

The crystal slowed to a stop, though not to give time to admire the view.

Her navel itched and when she went to scratch it, she felt a gritty powder fall between her fingers. Looking down showed the tiny fissures in her arms, legs, and torso growing and crackling like broken stone. An immediate loss of feeling took over her body. Paralysed, she could only watch wide-eyed as the gaps grew wider and wider.

The scrape and movement travelled up her bones. Her leg fell free from her upper thigh and floated gently away into the space before her. Two fingers gently took their own path in another direction. The arm she saw broke into three more pieces between clouds of dust like a weightless shattered vase in just the same moment that her vision began to bank clockwise. She was unable to stop her movement with half her chest and head floating away from the rest of her body. One more stony noise rang in her ears for just an instant before a dark shape came across her vision. Turning to face her was a quarter of her own head, a shock of her hair flagging and her own terrified eye staring back at her.

Then the pieces stopped. As if time took itself in reverse, her body clicked back together, down to the last grain of dust. The fissures shrank and sealed to their near-perfect flush texture in a matter of seconds.

"A gift of one memory from before. Take care with your words in case more of them are answered."

The voice ended with Li'Kalla being able to move once more, gasping for breath she didn’t actually need, with eyes as wide as they’d open and pupils like pinpricks.

The crystal continued on its way down to the blue marble in the distance.

”... That’s one stone-cold memory. Yeah, I don’t think I want to find out anything else for now.”


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The Wuhdige Tribe


A sorrowful year had passed since the fall of Jotokan. In all the years since arriving on Wuhdige Island, the selka had never known suffering akin to that which had plagued them on nearly a weekly basis for the past twelve or so months. The Elu, long since exiled from the tribe for their actions, had only solidified their hold on the southern half of the island. With the aid of their mysterious ally, they gained ground by the week. The Wuhdige territories had always expanded without an enemy in mind - there was no real force that could truly make a stand against attacks on the fringes of their land. Even as those very fringes closed in around the outer edges of Hohm, the Wuhdige forces struggled to stand up to the vicious Elu onslaught.

Luckily, the Wuhdige had not been idle since their last chieftain’s death: Surrounding the settlement of Hohm were deep ditches in the sand lined with sharpened sticks. Selka were poor jumpers, even while charging, so the pits made any assault against the Home Cave settlement fruitless - however, in order to sustain the settlement, the Wuhdige were forced to keep the seafront open, and attacks on fishermen and women were not uncommon.

Understaffed and exhausted, the shattered Wuhdige forces had long since lost any semblance of morale - rallying them to strike back was out of the question when even the thought of self-defense seemed offensive to them. The conscription of the females had helped considerably in the beginning, but occasional losses over time had begun to add up, and what had once been twice the numbers of the enemy had been reduced to equal.

Aloo, scarred and grizzled and without a shred of the childlike joy he had displayed no longer than a year ago, sat between Duhwah and Woi’e with his legs crossed. The “boy chief”, as he had been dubbed, had wasted no time since day one of his rule devoting his life to seeing the Elus and their allies slaughtered - he himself had sent plenty to the Spirit Birds. However, a single, or even a group of exceptional warriors could not change the tide of war, and while Aloo’s skill was greater than his father’s ever had been, Duhwah, and later Woi’e, had both realised that he was a killer, not a commander.

The problem was making him realise that.

Aloo pointed at the map before them. “They’ll be there by tonight. You two gather up the boys and girls and meet me at the bridge at sunset. Tonight, we’ll beat them back!”

This was an all-too-familiar speech at this point, and both Woi’e and Duhwah sighed in unison. Duhwah spoke first: “Chief, what boys and girls? They ain’t up for fighting - you remember what happened last time - we got absolutely crushed!”

“That was last time, Duh! This time will be different!”

The champion tightened his fists into balls and grit his teeth. “You know darn well it won’t, Chief. It’ll be exactly like before - like it’s been all year! We gonna run into the woods and they gonna pick us off one by one!”
Aloo flared his nostrils and rocketed to his feet. He kicked a rock into the cave wall and sounded a bellowing roar. Woi’e flinched and kept her mouth pressed together to a close. Duhwah stood up and gave Aloo a stern glare.

“Face it, Aloo, we’re no good for attack. We should hunker down and pick them off as they attack our fishers.”

Aloo turned around and pointed a finger at Duhwah’s face. “That’ll take far too long! You know as well as I do that they get support from across the strait - new boys show up with spears in hand every month.” Aloo shook his head and sat down on a rock. Duhwah closed his eyes and took a few careful breaths.

“Never did I think I’d live to be one of the oldest in the tribe,” he mumbled, “but ain’t life somethin’... All the elders are dead ‘n the cubs ain’t growin’ nearly fast enough…”

Woi’e grumbled to herself. “Any attack gunna cost us a lot’a lives… Duh’s right, chief. We gotta hunker down.”

Aloo shot her a vicious glare. “Woi’e, you too? Am I surrounded by wussies?”

Duhwah snarled. “It ain’t wussy to think smart, Aloo! You should try it once!”

“What did you say, you ol’ lump?!” Aloo roared back and stood up. He reached Duhwah to the chin and was not even half his mass, but Duhwah could not strike him - even if the chieftain struck him. Aloo had abused this rule in the past and a boiling sensation within him seductively suggested doing so again.

“Chieftain!”

All three of them turned to the cave entrance. It was Julo. Over the past year, he, too, had grown scarred and grizzled, and his youthful handsomeness of the past existed no longer. His voice rang with worry and the three assumed only the worst.

“What? What’s up?” Aloo demanded, pushing his way past Duhwah.

“They coming for our fishers again,” Aloo reported. “A girl’s already been snatched up. The others are making their way back to the beach, but they can’t swim fast without dropping all the fish.”

Aloo nodded and grabbed his spear which rested by the cave mouth. “Tell them to safeguard the fish at all cost. We’ll hold them off. Duh, Woi’e - come on!” The chieftain charged out the cave, sounding mustering calls in all directions. Duhwah and Woi’e exchanged rivalling looks.

“You comin’?” the champion asked. The giant woman took her spear in hand and nodded with a sneer.
“Gotta do my duty for the chief,” she said.

“For the chief, then,” Duhwah agreed sarcastically.




When the two arrived on the beach, the sea was already crimson with war. With water up to his waist, Aloo fought with the ferocity of a wolf and the strength of a bear despite his size. Around him laid the floating carcasses of four warriors, soon to be joined a fifth. Behind Aloo, however, the frontline was pushed back. Julo and four others were desperately holding off eight blue-painted warriors, and as Duhwah and Woi’e joined the fray, Julo had lost two of his warriors.

Duhwah and Woi’e turned the tide, however - with a deft, agile jab of his spear, the first of his opponents fell nigh instantly, pierced right in the liver. Woi’e grabbed her opponent’s spear tightly as he dove in to strike, then ripped it out of his hands and planted it solidly in the warrior’s neck. Slowly, but surely, the frontline recovered, and soon, the numbers were equal on both sides, then reducing on the enemy’s. However, by that time, Aloo had almost fought his way far out of range, and on the horizon, Duhwah saw the foam of another approaching force.

“ALOO!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, but the chieftain was too far lost in his bloodrage. Even as the sea grew too deep for Aloo to stand, however, the chieftain displayed the viciousness of an aquatic predator, diving deep and pinning his enemies on his bone-tipped spear from below. Still, no mortal boy could take on those reinforcements alone.

“Woi’e, hold my flank!” Duhwah shouted as he dove into the water.

“W-wait, what?!” Woi’e shouted back and was nearly pierced by an incoming jab from Duhwah’s previous opponent. In a powerful grab, Woi’e seized the spear again, snapped it in half and dove her own spear into the selka’s chest. The last of the first wave was subsequently killed by Julo.

“Wh-... Where did Duh go?” he panted and tried to wipe the blood off his forehead with a bloodier hand. Woi’e blinked at the approaching foam towards which Duhwah swam, and Aloo’s proximity to it.

“He’s going to save the chief… Hurry! Fetch some rocks and good throwers!”

“I’m goin’!” Julo shouted and sprinted off as fast as he could. Woi’e, meanwhile, began collecting leftover spears and javelins scattered around the beach.




Out at sea, Aloo glided through the water with his spear out front like the tooth of a narwhal. The raiders fell one by one, but one by one wasn’t nearly fast enough; in mere moments, the now red-furred chieftain was surrounded. He scowled at the surrounding adversaries, all of whom now held their spears ready to toss should the chieftain try anything. One of them swam a little closer and flashed Aloo a broad grin of sharpened teeth.

“Yer a wild one, laddie - wilder than any I’ve laid me eyes on before. What’s yer secret?”

The chieftain growled. “... Elu blood, and plenty of it.”

The stranger let out a single scoff. “Oh, esn’t that adorable. Ought to congratulate ye, though - you’ve had yer fill fer sure. Thanks to ye, ten Elus won’t feast happily with their families tonight. Hope yer proud o’ yerself.”

Aloo roared as menacingly as he could, but his developing throat still lacked the appropriate bass for that. “You and the Elus started this - don’t even begin to pretend otherwise! Why are you doing this?! Who even are you?!”

“Oof, it’s been a year already ‘n ye still don’t recognise us. Well, ‘tis been a couple o’ decades since our, what, great-grandparents split? Honestly, don’t ken, don’t care.”

“... What?” was all Aloo could manage. The stranger nodded.

“Aye, aye, come on - say it with me now…”

Aloo still looked uncertain and the stranger looked somewhat disappointed. “What, yer parents never told ye? How bloody disappointin’, no wonder ye never figured it out, then!” He punched the water surface angrily and a few of the surrounding warriors exchanged uncertain stares. The stranger gathered himself again and groaned. “Alright, fine - s’pose you’ve earned the knowledge fer yer killstreak. I’m Roganweh, brother ta chief Arganweh o’ the Wogweh tribe.”

Aloo blinked at the surrounding warriors again, carefully weighing his options. “... Loganweh?” he said uncertainly to entertain his adversary.

“Logan--... See, this is why I hate ye islanders: Ye can’t pronounce a damn thing! ‘Es Roganweh! Ruh! Rrruh!”

“Luh. Lllluh,” Aloo taunted with a smirk. The stranger scowled back.

“Now, see, here I was thinkin’ I’d take ye as a slave or somethin’ - who knows, ye might make a good pit fighter or somethin’. Yet here ye are, mockin’ me right in my face - makes me think there esn’t any reason to spare ye.”

Suddenly, Aloo noticed something: a dip in the waves coming from their beach. Thinking fast, he knew it to be the only one foolish enough to try to get him out of this mess. He flashed Roganweh another smirk and shrugged.

“Alright - have your way. I don’t even know what pit fighting is, but it sounds boring as counting pears.”

Roganweh bristled up at the statement. “Now ye lis’n here, laddie. Pit fightin’ is the finest game there is, ‘n if ye mock it in front of me one more ti--”

“Booooooooooooooring!” Aloo taunted again. Roganweh grit his teeth together and nodded at the warriors, all of whom began closing in around Aloo.

“Hey! Not gonna fight me yourself, you wuss?!” Aloo challenged. The foreigner shot him a sideways scowl.

“I don’t have time fer krill, ‘n yer below that. Say hello to the Seaking fer me.”

“Hah! I ain’t meetin’ the Spirit Bird tonight!” Aloo shouted and held his spear out. He looked to where he had seen Duhwah - the champion drew closer, but it was apparent that he hadn’t bought him enough time after all. His smirk faded as he weighed his options once more and found them all to be less than ideal.

The foreigner shot him a look. “Ah, right, the Elus did say somethin’ about those birds… We made certain they forgot about them soon after our alliance… No matter - the dead can’t be choosers, either way.” He turned to the warriors. “Take his corpse to Dun-ar-Wog - the chief’ll want somethin’ te sacrifice te Kirron.”

“Aye, boss,” one of them went and before long, Roganweh had dove beneath the waves along with two others.

Now, surrounded by six others, Aloo felt his odds improve. They were gravely mistaken if they thought they had him surrounded - at sea, he had an additional dimension he could move in.

However, just as he was about to dive, a lunge came from all six directions. He dodged five of them - a sixth embedded itself in his right leg. He screamed - or made an attempt to. The water kept it to a bubbling snarl and expended much of his air supply. A quick look upwards told him that his pursuers were gaining on him - with one leg down, his speed was severely reduced, even underwater. He cast a look to the side - where in the gods’ names was Duhwah?!

Then, above him again, the sea turned red. It was blurry and dark, but he saw in the shine of the Garden that Duhwah had finally caught up with him and his enemies, and were using the dark waters to make quick work of them. Aloo seized the opportunity to surface for a fresh breath, but on his way up, he noticed Duhwah seemed to the fighting a losing battle - tremendously so. In his heart stirred an urgency that ignored the need for air and sent the selka chieftain propelling towards his champion, spear leading on.

Duhwah, meanwhile, had the brute strength to deflect the blows coming for him, but lacked the dexterity to return any. Thus he was forced to draw further and further back, and he was running out of air. To his frustration, his attackers dared not get too close to him, opting instead for speared jabs. He was certain they knew that he would outclass them completely at an arm’s distance.

Then, just as a jab came a bit too close, one of the assailants was speared through the hip by Aloo coming in at a sideways angle. Duhwah cheered on the inside, but he saw the sluggish movements of his chieftain, and the crimson cloud around his leg. The fire of duty reignited within him, and even as he took a few jabs and cuts to his right arm, he managed to swim over and grab him, immediately thereafter taking him to the surface.

As the pair came back into open air, both the chieftain and the champion sucked in loud gasps of air. Aloo coughed something fierce, and Duhwah pounded him on the back.

“Chieftain, are you al--AGH!” A spear stabbed Duhwah through each of his calves before his assailants, too, had to breathe. They surfaced much too close to the champion, though, and even through the gruesome pains, Duhwah spun around with a snarl on his face and hammered one of the attackers with his fist with such strength that the selka passed out face down. His partner fared little better, for he could barely turn around before Duhwah gripped his neck and snapped it with a single hand.

Silence at last. There, floating among corpses, the pair felt the adrenaline fade and the pain consume them. Duhwah turned weakly towards the beach. During the battle, they had floated far away from the island. He turned the other way; they had almost swam closer to the mainland.

“H-hey… Chief?” Duhwah said weakly. Aloo still held on to him, but the grip was weak and his skin was paling, visible even through the fur. The champion turned in every direction, but it was hopeless. No one had come for them in the heat of battle.

Or so he thought, up until the champion looked up.

Like a second Lustrous Garden, an golden structure shaped like a very odd pear descended from the heavens on top of a circular stream of water that only seemed to feed itself. The champion kicked and paddled with his free limbs in spite of the agony to pull himself and the chieftain out of the way of the structure, but it seemed to be uncannily aware of exactly where they were. It landed neatly on the sea next to them and remained there calmly, like if a whale decided to take a nap on top of the water surface against all natural evidence. Duhwah eyed the structure with awe-struck eyes and shook the groggy chieftain.

“Look, Aloo! Look! It’s--.. It’s beautiful!”

The chieftain didn’t respond verbally, but his drowsy eyes fell upon the sight for a swift second before they closed again. Duhwah felt a pang of panic and looked up at the structure. He thought he saw some shapes onboard and called, “Help! Help! My chieftain is very hurt!”

For the following moment, he felt the terror of the possibility that they hadn’t heard him - or worse, didn’t care. However, as soon as that thought entered his mind, there came from the top of the structure two enormous limbs of… Water? Duhwah’s eyes once more snapped open in awe - this was the work of a god, for certain. Was it Lugo?

The limbs wrapped gently around the two of them and brought them onto a platform atop the structure’s middle section. They were gently put down and immediately surrounded by odd, sand-coloured shapes with even stranger pelts. They spoke in a terribly strange tongue, sounding almost like aggressive music, and began to clean and wrap the selkas’ wounds. Duhwah couldn’t believe his eyes. He blinked at the surroundings and tried to make sense of the situation. He decided to ask, “Hi, uhm… Where--owch! Where are we? Who are you?”

The odd figures didn’t answer him, but a few gave him what looked like smiles if you imagined they had a snout, as well. He felt a bubbling anxiousness inside - while the care was most appreciated, he would at least like to know who his saviours were, as well as their intentions.

“Ah… To think I would actually experience a deus ex machina moment… Priceless.”

The deep, oily voice had caught Duhwah off guard and he rolled around looking for its source, much to the dismay of his physicians. They mumbled something to each other and the voice chuckled.

“Please, remain calm - my precious servants will see to it that you are bandaged and fed.”

Duhwah felt a rumble in his belly - it had been a while since his last proper meal. However, still curious as to who their saviour was, he once again asked, “Who, who are you?”

There came a quiet hum. “A sensible question - it is my first time seeing your kind as well, so I propose we exchange our identities to solidify the beginning of this new friendship?”

“... F-friendship?” Duhwah asked quietly.

“Why, of course! Any worthy mortal can consider itself a friend of Shengshi.”

The voice coloured in an imagine of a powerful character, and Duhwah soon laid his eyes upon a colossal creature whose scales glittered in the evening light like miniature stars. It had a bulk that even Duhwah could only dream of, and a stern, yet intrigued face adorned with a sly smile. Its body ended not in feet like his own, but instead balanced on a long, girthy tail. In all honesty, he was quite ugly to Duhwah, but simultaneously magnificent in so many other ways. The creature once more eyed Duhwah and Aloo up and down.

“Now, friends, may I know what and who you are?”
Duhwah swallowed. He bowed his head as low as he could as he laid there on the floor. “I’m, uh, I’m Duhwah, champion of the Wuhdige tribe. That boy over there’s my chieftain, Aloo.”

The creature nodded. “Interesting. I reckon you must be the selka I have heard so much about. Tell me, what were you doing in the water so bloody and beaten? Would it have anything to do with the corpses down there, by any chance? Are they your allies?”

“No! Not at all,” Duhwah bellowed, making the creature raise an eyebrow. The champion calmed himself a bit. “Uh, sorry, friend Shengshi--”

“Your Lordship will do,” the creature interrupted in a polite manner.

“Your what-now?” the champion responded.

“Lordship,” the creature repeated. “It is a title - like chieftain.”

“Your… Lodoship,” the champion attempted. The creature frowned.

“Pronounciation difficulties, I see. No matter - since you have been deemed worthy, you are permitted to refer to me as ‘master’.”

Duhwah looked confused. “M-masta’.”

“Close enough,” the creature conceded. “Now, they were not your allies, judging from your reaction to my assumption. Were they raiders? Rivals?”

Duhwah hung his head. “Honestly, I don’t know, uh… They’ve been attacking us for nearly two years now - it all started when we kicked out the Elu family and--”

“So it is a family dispute?” the creature suggested.

“Yes! Or… No, we don’t know. They’ve got help, you see. Strangers we’ve never even seen. They don’t even talk like us - or, they do, but really weirdly.”

The creature hummed, sitting down on his coiled up tail. “So they are raiders that originally were part of this tribe of yours, and they have also received foreign reinforcements?”

“Yes, masta’,” Duhwah assured. “Our chief’s pretty reckless, so I had to swim out and save him. He held the raiders away from Hohm, but got himself pretty beaten for it.”

The creature nodded. “Your loyalty to your chieftain has not gone unnoticed, young Duhwah.”

The champion mumbled the word ‘young’ to himself before asking, “W-what loyalty?”

“Why, you came at his rescue at the risk of losing your life. I saw from high above that you swam quite far from the beach to save one who truly had overextended his assault. I can think of few other examples of such devotion to one’s master. You, Duhwah, are an exemplary servant.”

“Servant?” Duhwah asked weakly. The creature nodded.

“Indeed, Duhwah, and hear now that being a servant is not an ailment - in fact, to serve well and properly is a skill and a trait that can only be found in the finest of individuals. Individuals like you, for example,” the creature said with a grin and pointed at Duhwah’s blubbery chest.

The champion frowned. “U-uh… Was just doin’ my job.”

“And you did it well,” the creature boasted. “So well, in fact, that I will bestow upon you a gift - a gift for the whole tribe.”

As the master said so, a pair of the sand-skinned creatures came over to Duhwah and Aloo carrying shiny discs from which oozed a most heavenly fragrance. Duhwah felt his mouth water and even Aloo’s eyes groggily opened at the smell. Duhwah noticed and broke his eyes away from the food, turning instead to the chieftain. He crawled over to the dismay of his physicians again and lifted the chieftain’s torso gently.

“Chief! You alright?”

“Duh,” Aloo whispered weakly. “What’s that… that smell?”

“Hey, chief, we’re gonna be okay! The masta’ says he’s gonna help us out! He seems like a great guy.”

“I certainly hope so,” the creature mumbled a little sourly.

Aloo nodded slowly, his lips curving into a weak smile. “Good… Hey, Duh?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m… Sorry… I was a dumb-... Dumbass.”

Duhwah nodded sideways. “Yeah, kinda…” He snickered. “You’re still the chief, tho. Can you sit up?”

Aloo flexed his muscles a little and, with great strain, managed to keel forward, kept in balance by Duhwah and a number of servants. One of them came to Aloo with a disc in one hand and a pair of straight sticks in the other, and Duhwah watched with furrowed brows as the creature picked up food with the sticks and put it in Aloo’s mouth. He turned Shengshi with a curious look.

“Why doesn’t he use his hands?” he asked.
“Hands are used for work, young Duhwah. During work, they grow dirty and rugged - they thus have no place near the mouth.”

The champion shrugged. “It’s worked out well for us so far.”

The creature smiled slyly. “Is that so? Not a single bellyache or case of gut disease?”

The champion rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, uh…”

The creature nodded. “I recommend at the very least to wash your hands before eating. Speaking of…” A pair of servants came over to Duhwah, took the chieftain out of his arms and laid him down carefully again and began to wash his hands with wet towels. The champion eyed the servants anxiously and turned to Shengshi, who nodded back.

“Please do not resist. I reckon you will be eating with your hands anyway, so I am taking precautions for you.”

Duhwah looked down at his hands - they hadn’t been this gray in a long time, and frankly, he liked them better with a little dirt on. It made his fur look more colourful. Nevertheless, he nodded as appreciately as he could and took his disc. He dipped his hands into all the foods on it, tasting the residues with increasing enthusiasm.

“This… This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted,” he whispered. Shengshi chuckled.

“The kitchen of Jiangzhou offers only the finest, be it for gods or mortals. I would offer you some wine, but that may upset your blood clots a little.”

“Wine?” Duhwah asked.

“You will no doubt encounter it at some point. Now, as for the gift…”

“Aloo! He’s coming to!” Duhwah exclaimed.

“Right, I suppose we are waiting, then,” Shengshi muttered to himself.

Aloo’s eyes were still barely open and his breathing was weak, but at least now he sat by himself. He shook his head in an almost drunken manner. “Duhwah…”

The champion shuffled closer again. “What is it, chief? I’m here, bro.”

“The friends of our enemies… They call themselves Wogweh… Know what that is?”

Duhwah’s eyes snapped open and he sucked in a breath. “So that’s what happened to them, huh…”

“Has the identity of this mystery foe been uncovered, then?” Shengshi asked absent-mindedly.

Duhwah wolfed down the rest of his food and hummed pensively as he chewed. “Way back in the day, ol’ gramps used to tell us about the first Wuhdige… Tokuan, Agoh, Yupa, Elu, Dondweh and Wogweh. All six tribes went along from the First Beach, but when we was about to swim over to Wuhdige island, the Wogweh backed out and stayed on the mainland… Haven’t seen ‘em since.”

“Any clue as to why they allied with your enemies?” the snake asked the two.

Aloo took another bite of food and swallowed it whole. “... Dunno. He said somethin’ about pit fiightin’ and slaves… Whatever those are.” Duhwah shrugged, too, but the snake hummed in understanding.

“A society built on slavery, I see…” The god turned towards the mainland, where in the dark, faint flickers of flame could be spotted, even with mortal eyes. He nodded to himself. “... I reckon they are raiding your settlement to capture your people and plunder your resources. Has anyone gone missing since their attacks begun?”

The two selka looked at each other. “Now that you mention it,” Duhwah mumbled. Shengshi nodded again.

“A slaver society is not ideal, but sadly, quite a simple solution to a lot of the problems plaguing young civilisations. I reckon you have struggled before with worker and soldier morale?”

“Struggling right now, actually,” Aloo muttered, inciting a short-lived frown from Duhwah. The snake nodded yet again.

“With slavery, you can avoid the morale problem by seeing the workers and soldiers as property, not lives. They can be treated like insects, if the master wishes, killed or spared at the mere snap of a finger. Pit fighting may share similar traits - it describes a situation where warriors are put in a small arena and set to fight one another to death, often as entertainment for others.”

Duhwah grimaced. “Who would wanna watch other people die?”

“If it’s Elu,” Aloo began to suggest until a deathglare from Duhwah put him off it.

“A soul driven by vengeance, I see,” the snake muttered disapprovingly and pointed a clawed finger at the chieftain. “You should learn from your servant, young Aloo - a reckless master invites only his own death.”

Aloo stood as frozen, though he personally could not quite understand why. Maybe it was the actual menacing shape of the creature before him, or the tremours that his voice sent through what felt like the very fabric of existence.

“So… What should I do, then, masta’?” the chieftain asked.

“Seek council with this man. Age is often a sign of experience, and this man is many years your senior. Now, to change the subject yet again, I must ask what you wish as a gift for your people, young champion,” said Shengshi and turned back to Duhwah with a slightly impatient smile.

Duhwah turned to Aloo and shrugged. “W-well, see… We ain’t sure. Can it be anything?”

“Anything that can be considered a gift, yes.”

“Can we wish the Elu away?!” Aloo asked loudly.

“What did I just say, little mortal?” Shengshi snapped back and Aloo seemed to shrink into nothing. He then turned back to Duhwah. “I will not exterminate a whole society for you, no. Meddling with mortal conflicts upsets the harmony of the universe.”

“Then… Can we have some tools that will help us defeat them, at least? Keep them off our island?” Duhwah asked.

The snake furrowed his brow. “You looked as though you had not eaten for a week just a minute ago. Are you certain you should not wish for an abundance of food for your people?”

Duhwah shot Aloo a glance and nodded. “We only go hungry ‘cuz the Elu and Wogweh keep stealin’ our food. If we had the means of defendin’ ourselves, we could retake the fishing grounds and pear forests.”

The snake scratched his chin in thought, then eventually nodded. “Very well, then. You shall have your tools of war. What is the weapon of your foe?”

“They, uh… Mostly use spears and clubs, I think.”

The snake nodded. “I see. To counter jabs and slams, you need a proper tool of defense.” He eyed the island in the distance with a thoughtful expression. “Tell me, do you have any oxen on your island?”

“Any what?”

“Thought not. How about tall grass?”

“Like reeds?”

“That will do,” the snake said. Suddenly, the massive structure upon which they stood turned towards the Wuhdige beach. Once there, the chieftain and the champion were set down on the beach by two giant water limbs, much to the awe of the Wuhdige onlookers. After them came the snake. He raised his hands in a welcoming gesture and bellowed, “All selka of the Wuhdige tribe - I am the Master, Shengshi, and at the request of your champion, I have been tasked with providing tools of defense against the foreign invaders.”

The selka seemingly didn’t quite know how to react. Shengshi sighed. “You’re used to this by now… Pretend they’re awestruck. Yes… Yes, you are awestriking,” he mumbled to himself with a smirk. Duhwah and Aloo looked at him curiously and shrugged at each other.

Then, as the snake raised his hands again, a two pine trees at the far back of the Hohm camp, which had served as a backdrop for decades by now, all uprooted and soared over to Shengshi with a mighty speed. There, they landed with a loud thump to the sound of Wuhdige “waaahs”.

“To counter the enemy onslaught, mortals, I will fashion you shields out of wood. These will be a little heavy, yes, but they will hold firmly against any weapon the enemy can use against you.”

The Wuhdige looked at one another and in the crowd, one hand was raised.

“Yes?” Shengshi went.

“What’s a shield?” came a voice. The snake sighed.

“Hold on a minute. I will show you.” He twisted his hand, and as if the tree was putty for a moment, a globule of wood floated out of the trunk and moulded itself into a round buckler suitable for a selka. He took a dead fish from the beach and turned its skin into straps and strapped it onto his oversized arm.

“This shield, hold on, it’s a little tight… It will serve as a wall between you and the enemy’s strike. If they come at you with a club, deflect it with this and use your other hand to strike back. A spear will get stuck or bounce off - seize the opportunity and strike them dead.”

The surrounding Wuhdige eyed the shield with awe and confusion. Shengshi rolled his eyes discreetly and handed the shield to Duhwah. “How does it feel?”

Duhwah strapped it on and swung his arm about, nearly losing balance on account of his wounded legs. “It’s a bit heavy.”

“Good,” Shengshi said. “That means it’ll withstand plenty of strikes.” He proceeded to make enough discs for all the warriors of the tribe, and all forty of them lined up to each receive their own slice of wood strapped with fish skin. The selka stood scattered around on the beach, all testing and trying out their fresh equipment. Some picked up clubs and began to practice; others picked up spears and tried to wield that and the shield simultaneously. As they practiced a manner mixed between clumsy and crafty, the snake could not help but snicker to himself. He took the moment to climb back aboard his ship and look down at the ever-learning warriors.

“He Bo?”

“Yes, Your Lordship?” the head servant answered diligently.

“I think we will move further inland. These selka truly are something else.”




After about a day of practice, the selka were tired and at least a little wiser. Duhwah and Aloo gathered everyone on the beach, many taking in the strange sight of the odd wrapping about their legs. Aloo limped forward with some support from his brother Tokkan.

“Wuhdige! We’ve finally gotten an edge in the fight! But we won’t attack just yet.” The selka looked at one another and Aloo sucked in a breath. “I’ve been a bad, bad chief, and driven y’all darn hard - harder than I shoulda. Y’all get a break for the night. Me and Duh’ll be watching the beach.”

Relieved laughter and cheers exploded from the crowds with unexpected loudness and many simply laid down in the sand to sleep. Duhwah and Aloo chuckled.

“So, Duh, what was the name of that god again?”

“Oh, uh… The masta.”

“Damasta?”

“Yeah, yeah, that was it, I think.”

“Huh. Damasta, huh? Well, better get working on his shrine. After the others nap, of course.”

“After the nap.”





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Karamir

&
Arryn





”You said we’re almost there?” Karamir asked as he trudged through the forest. It had been days; the clothes Diana had given him so long ago were once again stained with dirt and grass. Once again, he was back to his days as a wanderer, only without the everlooming discomfort of Diana’s presence. In many ways it was refreshing, yet at the same time, the lack of the familiar discomfort was almost discomforting in its own right. At least Arryn had fashioned him a bone-tipped spear; something he had been without for far too long.

Arryn paid no heed to his internal thoughts, and simply nodded. ”Yes, it’s not far.”

And sure enough, a strange and unusual building came into view. It was a small mud hut, its walls a little rundown and its thatch roof a little smelly, even at a distance.

In addition to escorting them away from Limbo, the Warden had also given them directions. And those directions had led them here, to the home of some of the Dreamers; the descendants of Hermes.

Seeing no use in waiting, he continued forward, with spear in hand and Arryn perched atop his shoulder.

The little shack seemed rather empty from the outside. In the distance behind it came faint rumbles and grunts, answered by a few shouts and yells. As the pair began to walk past the house, the door curtain gently floated to the side to reveal a hand, and shortly thereafter, its owner - a short, young boy with his arm in a splint.

“Hey, da-... Huh?” The child eyed Karamir up and down with a slightly disgusted expression. “What kinda clothes are those? Woah, you’re ugly.”

Karamir blinked. Of all the things he had expected to hear, it was not that. But he had been called worse, and so the insults themselves did nothing to phase him. ”They were given to me. Not by choice,” he answered, before peering off into the distance where he had heard the shouts.

The boy hummed monotonously. “Suuuure - bet you just have a really weird style, huh. Want my mom to get you a robe instead?” He then eyed Arryn and suddenly completely switched around, grinning from ear to ear and nearly hopping in excitement. “WOAH! Your bird is awesome! What kind is it?!”

”The avatar of Kalmar,” Arryn answered drily.

“Woah, it even talks,” the boy giggled before putting two and two together. “Wait…. Wait, wait, wait…” It looked at the bird with a wry expression. “... Only Elder Chagatai and Elder Wenbo can talk to birds…” He gasped. “Does this mean I can, too?!”

Arryn rolled his eyes. ”No. I am no mere bird. As I said, I am an avatar. Do you know the name ‘Kalmar’?”

“Oh, sure,” the boy assured. “He’s the god of hunting. Dad, granddad and basically everyone else in my family prays to him at least once a week. I do, too!” He put his hands on his hips proudly.

”And where are they now?” Karamir asked, still scanning the surrounding forest.

“Oh, uh… Think they’re herding the tree-eaters. At least that’s what granddad said they were gonna do today.” He scratched his nose sheepishly. “Mister bird, what does avatar mean? Is it a type of bird?”

Arryn shook his head, fighting valiantly to restrain his impatience. ”No. An avatar is the representative of a god. I am to Kalmar what Xiaoli is to Shengshi, or Diana to K’nell. I assume you know of them?”

The boy made a frown. “I always thought Mother Xiaoli was Shengshi’s daughter… Huh. What do you know. So, what, want me to kowtow like we do before God, or…?”

”There is no need for that,” Arryn said, wondering what in Kalmar’s name ‘kowtow’ actually meant.

”Do you know where your family is, or when they will be back?” Karamir interjected.

“Oh, they’re just over the hill.” The boy jogged over to the nearby hilltop and pointed down the side of the slope. “There they are!” As Karamir and Arryn followed to the edge, they saw a small lake of gray and black fur, wooly creatures with enormous mouths that could almost swallow trees whole. There, among the massive clumps of hair and teeth, a few alabaster figures walked around with sticks in their hands and knives on their hips. A few of them carried baskets of wool instead, however, and lethargically followed the knife-bearers from beast to beast.

The boy thumbed himself proudly on the chest. “When you get down there, tell them Khublai the Great sent you!”

Karamir and Arryn exchanged a glance. Karamir had never seen these creatures before, but they did not appear to be an immediate threat, and even if they were, he had an avatar with him. And so, they began to descend the hill.

The pair came down into the shallow valley only to meet a young girl with a basket of wool in her arms. She hadn’t noticed them at first and dropped her basket as she did, unleashing a short-lived squeal. Karamir bristled at the sound, coming to a sudden halt.

“Wh-wh-who are you - and what are you?” the girl asked in a quivering voice and pointed an even shakier finger at Karamir.

”Karamir of Kalgrun,” he answered, deciding it was as good an introduction as any, before continuing his descent down to the rest of the Dreamers.

The girl blinked at him in a frightened manner. She scurried to pick up the spilled fur, snatched up the basket and ran up the hill behind them. Meanwhile, as Karamir and Arryn approached the actual flock, a few tree-eaters gave them lazy stares as they munched on some splintered logs. A third face came out from between the beasts, followed by a fourth and a fifth. They didn’t immediately notice Karamir, and one of them said, “I thought I heard Badma scream. Where is she?”

“Look!” said the fourth one and pointed at Karamir. They all grimaced at the sight and whispered to each other. The middle one, seemingly the oldest, stepped forward an additional step, stuck the butt of his staff in the ground and placed his other fist on his hip. With a stern look, he spoke, “You there, stranger - forgive us, but we haven’t seen you around here before. Did you see a girl around here?”

Karamir nodded, maintaining his calm demeanor. ”She ran back up that hill,” he pointed. ”Toward the hut, I think.”

The two in the back whispered to one another again, followed by muffled snickering - which was quickly met by a glare from Arryn. The speaker nodded slowly. “Alright, that’s all good, then. Now, uh, forgive me for asking, but we’ve never seen one of your.. Uhm… Appearance around here before. Who are you and where are you from?”

”I am Karamir, of Kalgrun,” Karamir repeated.

”And I am Arryn, avatar of Kalmar,” Arryn added.

“Oh, snap - did that bird just talk?” one of the back dreamers went.

“Wait, did it say avatar of-...” The two dreamers in the back looked at one another; the dreamer in the front appeared stunned.
“The avatar of-... Kalmar…” All three then fell to their knees before the pair.

Karamir blinked in surprise. ”What’s all this?”

”It is how some mortals choose to address divine beings,” Arryn said. ”A show of faith, or appreciation.” The bird shifted its gaze down to the kneeling dreamers. ”Rise.”

“O-oh. ‘Course, Your Holiness!” All three of them scrambled to their feet again. The front one spoke, “It’s just so incredible! I mean-... You’re--snap, Your Holiness is the avatar of Kalmar, the Great Hunter! Oh, Mother Xiaoli told us all about Him! He’s helped us out more times than we can count, I tell you!”

“Many more times,” the two in the back agreed.

”You are hunters, then?” Arryn questioned.

“Guilty as charged - well, hunters and herders, of course. Batu’s the name, eldest son of Temüjin. Behind me are my brothers, Erden and Nugai. There are a few more of us between the tree-eaters, but we’ll get to those eventually.” The three all grinned the cheshire grins of their elder mom. “So, what brings you two to our humble patch of Tendlepog?”

”It is a long story, so I will keep it brief. I was created by Kalmar long ago, and I spent the past five decades travelling with a woman named Diana - the avatar of K’nell. She brought me back to the Palace of Dreams, and I spent some time there before deciding to leave. Arryn found me soon after. We were given directions on where to find civilization, and they led us here.” Karamir explained matter-of-factly.

“Snap, you’re fifty?” Nugai exclaimed and gave Erden a look of disbelief, receiving one in return. Batu snickered.

“Dad would be snapping jealous if you told him that, not to mention mom.” The three giggled to one another. “Well, you’ve found, uh… Some semblance of civilisation, I guess. What’re you looking for here? Work? A place to stay? Stories?”

“Oh, we got a few of those,” Erden went.

”All three of those will do, I think,” Karamir answered. ”Right now I have no purpose beyond learning all that I can.”

“Well, that’s as good a purpose as any, innit?” Nugai said with a cackle and dove back into the flock. “I’ll go fetch dad,” he hollered over the groans and grunts of the herd. Erden stepped a little closer to Karamir, running his eyes up and down his stature.
“Gotta say, Karamir, you’ve got some muscle. You a fighter?”

Karamir shrugged. ”I was, once. But it has been years since I last fought anything.”

”Kalmar blessed you to be a legendary fighter,” Arryn interjected. ”That skill will not fade so easily, and your recent gift has only made you stronger.”

“Snap, a legendary fighter, huh,” Erden thought out loud. Batu nodded with an impressed smile.

“Better not tell Borte and Chinua - they are big fans of wrestling. You might get challenged.”

“Pfft, you know Chinua would back off as soon as she saw him.”

“Yeah, not to slander our sister, but she would,” Batu agreed. “Borte still might show, though.”

”And how good are they?” Karamir asked.

The two brothers looked at one another, then began to tilt their hands up and down. “Eeeeeh… They’re enthusiastic?”

“Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” They nodded at one another.

”I see…” Karamir said. ”How many of you are there in total?”

Batu let out a sigh through vibrating lips. “Well, Qadan just had her third, so, what, uh… Guess that makes us, uh… Twenty? Twenty-four?”

“Twenty-five. Sarnai had her first a few weeks ago, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, twenty-five,” Batu confirmed.

Karamir’s eyes widened. ”That’s more than double the people I’ve met in my entire life,” he said.

“Man, you think that’s many? You should see Zhongcheng’s family - neither he and Laia nor their kids wasted any time,” Batu said with a snicker.

“Like rabbits, that whole clan,” Erden agreed.

”Population sizes like this are not unusual,” Arryn noted. ”In my time amongst the Selka, tribes tended to range from twenty to one hundred people.”

Karamir sighed. ”And somehow up until this point I only met… eleven people. Two of which were dreams. No matter, I’ll adapt.”

“Snap, only eleven people? The last fifty years ain’t been kind to you, huh,” Batu condoled. “Well, we oughta see if we can change that. How would you like to have dinner with us tonight? You and His Holiness are both welcome.”

Karamir nodded. ”Alright. Thank you.”

A moment later, the herd scattered ever so slightly again and out came Nugai followed by a much older man, two young women, three young girls and another adult male. All seven of them looked at Karamir and Arryn in awe before the elder exclaimed, “Are-... Are you the avatar of Kalmar?!” and pointed a shaking finger at Karamir.

Karamir shook his head.

”He is not. I am.” Arryn corrected, somewhat miffed.

“Dang it, dad, I told you it was the bird!”

The old man mumbled to himself. “Huh, so you did… Anyway, welcome! Welcome to Temüjin’s humble abode! Well, okay, this is the herding grounds, but you‘ve already seen the abode. You’ve probably already shared your stories with my boys, but what do you say you’ll share them with me and my family over some nice stalkplum stew, eh?”

”I’m not sure what that is, but I could use some food,” Karamir agreed with a nod.

“That’s exactly what it is! Good food, too! Come on, now - my wife’s probably just started cooking. Gotta tell her to set the table for two more!” Temüjin cackled and began strolling up the hillside with a joyous gait, followed by the three young girls. The remaining three newcomers stood staring at Karamir still until one of them, one of the women, asked assertively. “You a fighter?”

“Borte, not so direct!” the other lady cautioned.

“Oh snap, did you tell her, Nugai?” Batu said with a wry smile.

“Tell her what?” Nugai smirked.

”I am a fighter, yes.” Karamir answered with some reluctance.

Borte grinned from ear to ear, assumed a wide-legged stance and put one hand on her hip - the other, she pointed straight at Karamir’s face. “Hah! Then I challenge you to a wrestling match!”

“Gods, Borte, can’t you--”

“Shut up, Chinua, this is happening!”

”Now?” Karamir furrowed his brow. ”This doesn’t seem like a good time.”

"Challenging people to wrestle is exactly what auntie would've done, so I'm doing it, too-- Hey, w-what's the big idea, Khorr?"

The third male left, presumably named Khorr, grabbed Borte by the hand and dragged her up the hill with a frown on his face. "After dinner, you dolt…"

"But Khoooooooorr!" the arguably grown woman complained as she was dragged along, followed by her twin Chinua. Nugai and Batu snicker to one another.

"Every time… Hey, Karamir, come on. We'll head up, too."

Karamir followed without another word, confusion etched upon his face. The group headed up the hillside, where the previously seemingly empty shack was ablossom with life and noise. A number of neat little carpets woven with grass fibers laid in a circle on a small clearing in the grass, surrounding a bubbling iron pot complete with a clay ladle and a small tower of clay bowls in various shades of brown, black and beige. Sitting on the carpets already were Temüjin, Khorr, Borte, Chinua, the three young girls, and the mighty Khublai. The young lad gave Karamir and Arryn a proud salute with his non-broken arm.

“Welcome, guests! Welcome to my tabl-UGH!”

The lad keeled forward as Khorr shook his fist free of pain. “Khublai, show some respect, would ya?”

Khublai rubbed his stomach with a sniff and kept his mouth shut. Temüjin snickered. “Make yourselves comfortable now, friends - sit wherever you like. We don’t bite - well, ‘cept Borte. You can avoid her.”

“Dad!” Borte pouted to the cackles of the old man.

Karamir raised an eyebrow as he surveyed the scene, and suddenly found himself faced with a dilemma. Where would he sit? Who would he sit next to? He had never been in the company of more than three people at a time. After a few moments of thought, he eventually decided to throw caution to the wind and subvert expectations… and so he sat a few feet away from Borte, setting his spear down beside him.

The young woman, as well as everyone else around the iron pot, eyed him with surprise. Temüjin let out a single laugh and nodded slowly. “S’pose he thinks I’m bluffing, huh,” he mumbled to Batu who sat right by. Borte, however, gave her father a proud grin and gave Karamir a smirk.

“So, Karamir - you like to hunt?”

”I used to, but I’m a few decades out of practice,” Karamir admitted, causing Arryn to shake his head disapprovingly. The bird flew from his shoulder and landed on the carpet, beginning to strut the circle around the pot. ”Until recently I haven’t needed to, and the creatures of this land are still unfamiliar to me. It won’t be hard for me to learn, but it will take time.”

Temüjin nodded. “My other boys are out for a hunt as we speak, trying to track down a shadow badger. Their pelts are nice and solid, and their tough meat makes for great jerky. They should be back tonight if they don’t catch it, so you can tag along with them tomorrow. If not, we’ll arrange something by the end of the week, I reckon.”

”This shadow badger… what does it look like?” Karamir asked.

“Uhm,” Temüjin hummed.

“It’s like someone took a wolf, shrunk it and rolled it in tar. They’re pretty crazy and have bitten Nugai a bunch of times.” Batu nodded over to his brother, who confirmed the statement by showing his three-fingered left hand.

“Snappin’ badgers’ll take worse than fingers if you’re not careful,” he cautioned.

“Oi, Annie! Can we eat yet?!” Temüjin suddenly called at the house.

“... Just a moment…” came a faint call from inside, inciting a quiet groan from the old man. “Sorry ‘bout that,” he went.

Karamir bristled slightly at the missing fingers, and then glanced over to the house as Temüjin called out to it. He shifted his attention back to the conversation. ”I think I killed a shadow badger just two days ago,” he mentioned.

“Snap, really?” Batu went with an impressed nod. “How big was it?”

With a shrug, Karamir extended his arms to indicate the length. The dreamers nodded first at him, then to one another.

“Impressive, friend,” Erden stated to the agreeing hums of his family. “Must’ve been at least a young adult, that. They’re pretty fierce around that age. Did it get at you?”

”I wasn’t injured, if that’s what you mean. It came at me and I stabbed it before it could get too close,” he explained, gesturing to his spear.

“Yeah, that sounds like a shadow badger, alright,” Batu, Nugai and Erden agreed on. “Crazy mutts, all of them.” Erden gave Karamir’s spear a lookover. “That bone-tip any sharp?”

At the same time, an elderly woman came out of the house with a basket of flat cakes and a pot of something with a rank, sour smell. In her hair sat an odd little cloud that seemed to eye Karamir with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.

“Sorry, sorry, the flat cakes took forever to make today-- Oh, hello! Sorry I didn’t get to introduce myself earlier,” the lady said with a smile and sat the containers down by the pot. “Now, forgive me - it’s been a while since I exercised proper manners (marrying this idiot will do that to you)...” She eyed Temüjin with a loving smirk, at which the old man snickered. She then got down on her knees before Arryn and Karamir and lowered her torso and hands to the ground, placing her forehead just above soil level. “This servant is named Ansong, fourth daughter of Hermes and Xiaoli. It is a great honour to host His Holiness Arryn and His Exaltedness Karamir at our home.”

“Sheesh, really taking it all the way, huh,” Temüjin snickered.

“It is what Mother would have done,” Ansong replied with a smile.

”I don’t think that’s necessary,” Karamir spoke with uncertainty.

Arryn turned his head. ”Yes. It is appreciated, but there is no need,” the bird said.

Ansong sat back up. “Oh, you are so modest, you two. Oh, wait, snap-- His Exaltedness and Holiness are--”

“Annie, I think they get it,” Temüjin went. Ansong deflated a little, then sighed.

“Oh, well. Was worth a shot, I suppose. Anyway! Dear guests, please help yourselves to a bowl and some stalkplum stew from the pot. Take some flat cakes to dip and add some kefir for flavour. I cannot recommend it enough.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Temüjin went and reached for a bowl. Ansong slapped his hand away and the old man looked at her with a look of betrayal.

“Guests first, you oaf.”

“A’ight, sheesh…”

Karamir was somewhat befuddled by the strange customs at play, but decided not to comment further. He retrieved a bowl, filled it, took one of the cakes, and returned to his spot. Arryn, meanwhile, decided to abstain from eating and instead continued to make his rounds around the carpets, studying each Dreamer carefully.

Temüjin filled his bowl first with some of the stinky, white liquid from the clay pot, then ladled in some stew and popped a flat cake in his mouth. His children and wife did the same. The old man slurped the stew from his bowl and rolled it around in his mouth with a smile.

“As always, Annie, it’s perfect.”

Ansong giggled. “Thanks, dear, you know I had to make it extra good for our guests.”

“I think it tastes the same as it always does, though,” Khublai protested, receiving a bump in the back of the head from Khorr. The family did a mixture of a giggle and a sigh before Batu looked at Arryn with a curious expression.

“Your Holiness, why don’t you eat? Do holy beings eat differently or something?”

”Divine beings do not need to eat at all,” Arryn revealed. ”And when I do, it is normally only creatures that I or my master have killed ourselves.”

Karamir, meanwhile, slurped from his own bowl, paused for a moment, and then gave a slight approving nod at the taste.

“Huh… So gods don’t eat?” Batu mumbled.

“Does that mean all the sweetgrass pies we offer them are for nothing?” Nugai pouted with a frowned.

“Pfft, ‘course not, kid,” Temüjin assured before looking at Arryn. “Right?”

”Gods can eat, and some of them do,” Arryn clarified, ”But they don’t need to. Though unless you were given something in exchange for those pies, you would have been better off keeping them for yourselves.”

Ansong pouted, “... And here I was hoping Kalmar liked pies.” Erden patted his mother on the back. “They weren’t in vain, mom - at least the squolls enjoyed them.”

“That doesn’t help, Erden!” Chinua challenged with the point of a finger. The three young girls snickered to one another. One of them turned to Karamir and removed a flower crown from her head. She showed it to him and asked in a sweet voice, “Can you make flower crowns, Karamir?”

He looked at it for a moment, trying to figure out what value it possessed or what purpose it served. ”No,” he said, ”I cannot.”

The girls giggled to one another again. The youngest one put her crown back on her head and said with a grin: “I can! Want me to show you how?” The adults snickered among themselves and had some more stew.

”Maybe some other time,” Karamir suggested.

The giggles stopped and the girls instead silently and poutingly went back to their bowls. Temüjin slurped a loud mouthful, swallowed and pointed at bobbing finger at Karamir in thought. “Say, Karamir, you ever worked as a herder?”

”No,” Karamir answered with a slight shake of his head. ”I don’t know what that is.”

“Now y’see, son, hunting’s all well and good - and it really is, Your Holiness,” Temüjin said and bowed his head to Arryn. “Buuut, see, for a nice and steady source of food, fur and wool, herding tree-eaters is the way to go.”

”Too easy,” Arryn said dismissively, coming to a stop in front of Temüjin himself. ”The hunter should not feed its prey, and the prey should not offer itself up willingly.”

Temüjin gave Arryn a sideways nod. “Eh, see, with all due respect, I’d love to agree, Your Holiness, but it ain’t always easy - not even here. Sure, hunting works well to start off, but, well, sooner or later, there won’t be any beasts left. Herding makes up for those periods of the year, y’know.” His family members nodded in agreement.

”You are saying this land does not allow you to sustain yourself on hunting, fishing, and foraging alone?” Arryn inclined his head.

Everyone in the family shook their heads. “Winter kills all the berries and roots, and most of the animals retreat to either the Forbidden Forest or the Moving Mountains at the first snows,” said Batu and shook his head. “As for fishing, there are few good lakes and rivers around our house. Closest one is by Chagatai and Altansarnai’s and that’s half a day.”

“Yeah, having your own animals is just… More convenient. Saves time and effort - lives, too, I reckon,” Temüjin proposed.

“Yeah.”

”Why not move with the animals?” Arryn questioned. ”The snows make them easier to track, and many will be in hibernation.”

“Well, then we’d have to abandon our home, wouldn’t we?” Temüjin said as if it was obvious. “Sleeping outside for the whole winter’s awful for your health, too.”

“Makes it hard to keep warm,” Ansong added.

”With enough furs and enough fire you can keep warm,” Arryn argued. ”And eventually you will get used to it. Overcoming adversity makes you stronger.”

“Ain’t much stronger if you die in the cold,” Erden said with a chuckle. “Overcoming challenges sounds like something for Wenbo. Then again, he’d probably also be against sleeping outside in the winter.”

“He specifically told me not to do it when I last went to him for some health advise, if I recall,” Temüjin thought out loud. “Wenbo’s a really smart guy, though - second oldest brother in the flock, that one. Shame’s he’s also a bit of a, well… He’s got his ambitions.”

”What ambitions?” Karamir suddenly asked, cutting into the conversation.

Temüjin blinked and cleared his throat. “Well, uh… He had heard this proposal from His Lordship Shengshi, y’see… Something about eternal wealth and health and whatnot for the Dreamers who’d come along with him and settle off Tendlepog. He’s always had a thing for big plots and divine plans, so, well, we went along with it and tried to get us to follow him.” He sighed. “Turns out, he really only wanted to go ‘cause he wanted to see the world. Think to risk all our safety and comfort here for a few nice views? No, no, not for me.”

“I thought there was something to it,” Chinua mumbled quietly. Temüjin shot her a stare and shook his head.

“Ain’t nothing but death off Tendlepog, Chinny. Don’t fall for it.”

”There’s plenty of life outside Tendlepog,” Arryn interjected. ”Thousands of living, intelligent mortals make their homes elsewhere, with their own communities and traditions.”

“Really?” went Chinua, backed up by some curious expressions from the three young girls, Khublai and Khorr. Temüjin frowned and pursed his lips.

“Hey, Annie - we got dessert tonight?”

Ansong blinked out of the conversation and hummed pensively. “Uhm… Yeah, I think so! Let me go check.”

Temüjin nodded. “Chinua, could you take the girls and help her look?”

“But dad! His Holiness is--”

“Please?”

Chinua grunted angrily. “Fine. Come on.” She and the three girls got up and went inside with their mother. Khorr, reading the mood, followed along. Once they were out of earshot, Temüjin sighed.

“Sorry ‘bout that. They were really taken by Wenbo’s promises of adventure. I love my brother, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want my youngest going on a suicide mission with him.”

”Why do you assume it’s suicide?” asked Karamir. ”What is wrong with wanting to see more of the world?”

Temüjin gestured around. “Look around ya, son. Here, we got food all around the year; we’ve got our houses and family; and most importantly, God watches over us here. We’re under His protection at all times in this land. Going outside means sacrificing all that - He told us so himself.”

Nugai, Erden and Batu all nodded in agreement, Nugai raising his bowl to the heavens in salute.

”But if Wenbo is willing to give up that protection, and trust in the protection of another god, or choose not to have any protection at all, then what’s wrong with that? It’s his choice, isn’t it? You have food, house, and family, but there’s more to the world than that, and many will want to see it.” Karamir argued.

“Oh, he’s free to do as he wishes. My daughter Chinua, though - she ain’t yet to be married. Khorr’s barely past his teens and Khublai’s not even started them. Don’t even want to think about my three littlest grandchildren out there.” He shook his head. “Keeping the family going’s as much of a purpose as any, I reckon, one that truly shows the value of a man or a woman. Reckless exploration, however…” He shook his head again. “Call me old, but exploration almost got my two oldest brothers killed in their youth, and that was with God’s protection. Ain’t about to let the same happen to my own blood.”

Batu eyed his father up and down. “Want me to get some milk wine, dad?” Temüjin nodded.

“Bring cups for everyone, too, son.”

Batu stood up and walked inside.

”They won’t be young forever,” Karamir pointed out. ”What happens if they get older, decide they want to leave, and are given the opportunity to do so?”

“You ever had kids, Karamir?” Temüjin asked with a raised brow.

”I can’t,” Karamir answered, meeting his gaze.

“Oh,” Temüjin said with a weak nod and closed eyes. Nugai and Erden gave Karamir sympathetic looks. Meanwhile, Batu came out with a short tower of cups and a clay jug sealed with a woven lid.

“True shame that, son, true shame. Though from your views, it’s not hard to tell,” the old dreamer said and accepted a cup of an even more reeking liquid than the kefir. Batu proceeded to offer a cup to Karamir, as well.

Karamir accepted a cup, but did not drink yet. ”So what were you saying?” he asked.

“When you have kids, son, you begin to realise what truly matters - it ain’t that you should go explore; it ain’t that you should think about a purpose in life: Purpose’s already there for you.” He slurped the stinking drink and grimaced. His sons did the same. “See, your purpose becomes raising that kid, and your mind’s set on that. To see that little lump of hands and feet and a soft, little head grow up to be the most… Wonderful little kid there ever was.” He flashed his sons a loving smile, and they returned it each with one of their own. “Family’s everything, son - the self comes, well, second at most.” He sipped his drink again and swallowed reluctantly. “Does that make sense?”

”I can see why you might believe that, but that does not apply to everyone,” Karamir said.

”There comes a point when a parent and child must part ways,” Arryn interjected. ”They may decide or have to leave, and you may not be in a position to stop them. By the time they are ready to make that decision, you have done their duty, and should not hold them back.”

“Half of ‘em aren’t even close to old enough to leave,” Temüjin said a little impatiently. “And Chinua will part ways with us when she moves in with her husband-to-be, as everyone else has done. Well, almost everyone else - Laia and Zhongcheng had some thoughts on that system. Bottom line is that none of them are ready to really made that decision. Wanting to leave the safety of paradise ‘cause of wanderlust is proof of that.”

“Dad, perhaps you’ll want some water, eh?” Batu suggested and took another sip of his drink.

“Fine, fine, fetch some…” Temüjin conceded and Batu once again rose up.

”But at some point they will be old enough,” Karamir pointed out, continuing the debate. ”And when that time comes, will you stop them?”

“There’s only one chance, as far as we know, and once you leave, there’s no coming back.”

”Why not?” Karamir asked. ”If you can leave a place, surely you can return to that place in a similar way? Even if you can’t, why do you assume there isn’t somewhere better, or the same, as this? Wandering the woods of this place hasn’t felt too different from wandering the forests of Kalgrun. If somebody understands the risk and is willing to take it, that is their right.”

“God said we couldn’t return once we’d leave. In case you haven’t noticed, Tendlepog’s got a Warden, and he guards the outer deserts. If you ain’t invited, you ain’t getting in. As for why the feeling’s the same, you aren’t protected by God, son. It’s hard to explain to a foreigner, but… It’s like the mind’s always at peace, thanks to God.”

“Yeah, the thought of not having him be, well, everywhere’s kind of chilling, really,” Erden admitted and took another gulp of milk wine.

“That’s why I feel the young’uns simply don’t get the risk. They think that if things go sour, there must be some way back or something, or God’ll be on their side in everything. Nope - said so himself. If we leave, we’re on our own.”

”He forbade you from returning?” Arryn asked, his eyes clearly disapproving. ”Why? That doesn’t make sense.”

Temüjin shrugged. “He said there was no guarantee - knowing God, that’s basically a no.” His sons nodded. The old man accepted a cup of water from Batu who had just returned with a jug of the stuff. “Ain’t no secret that God wants us here, but ain’t no secret that he wants it ‘cause he knows it’s the best for us. He’s made paradise, and we’re lucky to be here.”

”You can’t call it paradise if you have nothing to compare it to,” Karamir pointed out.

”If it is best that you stay, then K’nell shouldn’t need to threaten you with exile to keep you here,” Arryn pressed. ”If the rest of Galbar is worse, then he shouldn’t have to worry about any of you leaving permanently. But what happens if Wenbo finds a better life out there and wishes to share it with you? He can’t.”

“God doesn’t threaten us - he’s given us a reason to stay. You two seem like fine folk, truly, but I trust wholeheartedly in God when he tells me this place is better than the world outside. Why else would he make such a system to keep it out?” Temüjin asked and had a slurp of water.

”K’nell is not the only god,” Arryn pointed out. ”You should not be so quick to place his word above all others.”

“Maybe not the only god, but he’s our God, and he’s done more than enough for us to deserve our trust and loyalty.” He drank the rest of his water and put down the cup. “We’ll have a fur tent set up for you out back, son. You can sleep there for the time being.” He nodded at Karamir and then at his sons, who stood up and went towards the house to set it up.

”Thank you,” Karamir said, remaining seated as he glanced down as his untouched drink. The conversation had given him much to consider, and frankly, he didn’t understand these Dreamers. Why did they so blindly accept whatever they were told? Why did they have no wish to leave, or learn anything more than what was directly in front of them?

‘I would be rather insulted to be the cause of any sort of pause in the advancement of higher thinking,’ K’nell had once told him. Yet it seemed K’nell had been doing exactly that. The God of Sleep continued to prove himself inconsistent, even frustratingly so.

Arryn looked as if he was ready to continue the argument, but everyone else had already moved on, and so the avatar decided it must be saved for another day.

Karamir, meanwhile, took another sip of his drink, still ruminating on his own thoughts.







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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice



Shengshi

MP: 0/FP: 2


While lifting the Jiangzhou back off the sea had been a little less convenient than usual on account of the lack of freshness in the water below, the golden ship had eventually managed to take to the skies, and currently drifted at a comfortable altitude of a few hundred metres. Life aboard went on as usual, with gifts and food being laid out, listed and arranged for the many different Selka tribes Shengshi planned to visit. While they had only met one, this mention of the ‘First Beach’ and more tribes on the mainland led the snake to believe that, if he followed the coastline, he would eventually come upon additional tribes.

To avoid the chilly rain of the far south, however, the ship kept a sizeable distance from the mountains, which effectively meant they had to soar above the sea for now. God-given eyes could easily spot campfires in the distance, the snake reasoned, so it would be no issue.

The snake sat on the deck on a small pillow-couch placed upon an intricate silk carpet. Before him stood a tiny pedestal on which laid a sheet of rice paper. In his hand he held an ink-tipped brush with which he wrote down what could be assumed to be a poem. Behind him stood ten servants motionlessly like golems awaiting their master’s orders.

“Hmm… He Bo, what rhymes with ‘blessèd’?”

“Does ‘confessèd’ work with the rhythm, Your Lordship?”

“Mmm… Not really, but adjustments can be made…”

There was a shout from one of the servants looking out over the edge.

“Your Lordship! The sea has arisen! It is Her Holiness, the Ocean Queen!”

Down below, formed from the waves of the sea, was the watery shape of Ashalla. She was waving a long limb towards the Jiangzhou.

The snake put down his brush. “Oh my, really? How nice of her to say hello! Pack up my workstation and fetch some wine and cu--... Oh wait, she did not like wine too much, did she?”

“Not that I recall, Your Lordship,” He Bo answered dutifully.

“Very well, then, uhm… Fetch one of the paintings from my room, if you would.”

“Yes, Your Lordship.”

Meanwhile, the ship gently floated downwards until it landed with a soft splash onto the surface of the sea. The snake slithered over to the side of the deck and opened his arms in a welcoming gesture, smiling from horn to horn.

“Oh, dearest sister of mine - how many years has it been?”

“Fifty three,” Ashalla answered flatly. There was an icy chill in the air. Ashalla glanced in the direction the Jiangzhou had come. “You came to the aid of the Wuhdige,” she commented.

“Yes, I decided to finally make my way down south after telling myself that I would for a few decades. And to think that there, in the sea next to which I landed, I did not only find a champion of the tribe, but also their chieftain! I reckon I could pick up fishing for a hobby with such luck.” The snake chuckled to himself. “As for what they needed help with, well - war and the like between mortals are not really my field of expertise, but they seemed like a worthy lot, so I gave them the means of a proper defense. Have you been there before, by the way? I saw a strangely large number of body-painted individuals.” He gave the sea goddess a wink.

“Yes. That was my doing, teaching them about paint. And shelters made of snow for the winter months,” Ashalla said. The chill still hung between them. Then with a voice with the sharpness of an icicle she said, “You broke your pact with Kalmar.”

The snake’s smile vanished completely and his arms went from embracing the air before him to resting sternly on his hips. His joyous eyes became a disappointed frown and he wrinkled his nose. “Was that really a necessary subject to bring up, sister? A reunion between two siblings occurs and one brings up such a taboo subject straight off the greeting.” He shook his head. “I suppose you are expecting me to explain myself?”

“Yes,” Ashalla said curtly.

“My, always so--...” The snake stopped himself, sucked in a sigh and let it out. “So be it. Many, many years have passed since that fateful day when I left the alliance - that is right, I broke no oaths. I simply told Kalmar I did not wish to be a part of the pact anymore. Breaking the oath would mean that I had somehow failed to do my part while still in it, which I have not, mind you. While I certainly have not been the greatest contributor, I confess, I have still suffered and slain enough to say I have at least done some part.” He took a deep breath. “Now, as for the reason itself, Kalmar and I have never truly gotten along well. He reckons I am selfish, which, certainly, I can take criticism for that, I concede; however, I reckon he is blind to others’ perspectives on things, something he so ungracefully proved that very same day. Who would want to be allied with someone who never returns the foundational respect you offer them, hmm?”

There was a rumble, but the icy chill remained. “What were the terms of your alliance?”

“The alliance originally was a call to arms against Orvus, if I recall - my word, it has been quite a long time since then… Whenever one of us would be attacked by Orvus, the others would come to their aid. Of course, since then, it has become apparent that any threats against any of us was to be perceived as a reason to aid - this clause was not formally added, of course. Again, I have always done my part. I also added a small clause for him to let me speak my mind without any interruptions - a demand which he has neglected multiple times, by the way.”

“Is that so?” There was a long and thoughtful rumble. Then the chill seemed to disappear, and Ashalla’s voice became like flowing waves. “Very well.”

The snake furrowed his brow and nodded slowly. “Very well.”

In that same moment, the doors of the palace swung open, and twenty servants came marching out carrying a large painting of the Taipang delta. The snake tried his best to don his smile again and gestured towards the approaching entourage. “Ah, what a wonderous timing. Dearest sister, seeing as it has been so long since we last met, I believed the occasion warranted a gift.” The servants stopped on the centre of the deck and pushed the painting upwards so the frame stood steadily on the deck. “I took the opportunity a few years back to paint the wonderful ecosystem we built together on the desert river. What do you think?”

A light burble issued from Ashalla as her eyes saw the painting. A thin pseudopod reached out and gently licked against the artwork. “It is a marvellous composition. The colours complement each other and highlight the key elements of the work. The brushstrokes set the broader scene while supporting the core features. It is also a lovely representation of our creation.”

“Ah, I am fantastically happy that you like it, dearest sister. It is yours to have if you wish - my gift to you in honour of a lasting friendship between the rivers and the sea.” The snake bowed and the servants who weren’t busy holding up the artwork kowtowed.

“For me?” The pseudopod ran around the edge of the painting. “Unfortunately, I have no place suitable for such an artwork. It can remain on this vessel until such time that I find a suitable place of my own for it.”

The snake blinked, then nodded. “Of course - it shall rest here comfortably until you are ready to claim it.” With that, the servants once more picked the enormous artwork back up and moved it into the palace again. The snake eyed them with a wry smile before looking back at Ashalla.

“Ah, now the mood is back where it belongs. What brings you here to Atokhekwoi, then? Are you, too, on a quest to bring joy and aid to these sweet little mortals?”

“Indeed I am. I have taught the selka about music, a skill they have put to good use.”

“Oh, is that so? How stellar! Tell me, if you would, which tribes have heard of this concept? I would so love to hear them play some for me.”

“The Ubbo, the Hyummin, and the tribes nearby and between them. Some have more talent than others, although most should be agreeable to granting a performance. There are two travelling musicians of exceptional talent, Pallamino the Third of the Ubbo and Hujaya of the Hyummin, whom I would recommend listening to if you meet them.”

“Ah, so I will - I am very much looking forward to it. What instruments do they have? Drums, flutes?”

“Drums, flutes, bows, rattles, sticks, lyres, voice, and more. Pallamino is a flautist. Hujaya is a singer and lyre player, and she also has a following of a few more talented musicians.”

“Oh, it truly is marvellous of you to lead this cultural crusade to the mortal populations of this world - truly. It will no doubt sow the seeds of unfathomably great civilisations. Think about it, my dear - with our combined appreciation for the arts, as well as your safeguarding of the seas and my blessings of the harvest… There is nothing but prosperity and glory in wait for those who pledge themselves to us!”

“Indeed. We work together well. Civilisation shall share our blessings and beauty.”

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Karamir

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Arryn





The tent given to Karamir and Arryn was, all things considered, of quite solid quality. It was roomy for two, and considering Arryn’s size, it was practically a room to Karamir. The walls kept the late summer heat inside during the chillier evenings, but they were also just airy enough not to overheat the interior. Spending the night inside would have been a considerably better experience than most other nights in Karamir’s existence - had it not been interrupted halfway through.

For at the dim of midnight, when sleep was at its deepest, the curtain of the tent was thrown open and the opening was overtaken by a shadowed face.

“Wake up,” Batu shouted. “Karamir, wake up!”

Karamir sprang into action, lurching upright and reaching for his spear, only relenting when he realized he was merely being woken up; not attacked. ”What is it?” he asked groggily, putting the weapon down.

A small heap of something was set on the floor just inside the tent. “Get dressed, quickly, and come outside.”

With a sigh, Karamir grabbed the new clothes and put them on. In the darkness of the tent, he wasn’t even sure what they looked like, but they were certainly cleaner and more comfortable than what he had worn previously.

Once dressed, he stepped outside. Part of the clothing fell neatly down around his legs and kept them nice and warm, though the garment was a little difficult to maneuver in. It was a robe, he came to realise, or at least, the same garment the Dreamers had been wearing. As he went outside, the whole family stood in a half-circle a small distance away from him.

“Ah, Karamir,” Temüjin said. The shadow of his old form waved Karamir over. “Terribly sorry to wake you up at this hour… It’s, sadly, quite important.”

”What is it?” Karamir asked, wiping his eyes as Arryn appeared on the branch of a nearby tree.

“Well, it’s, uhm…” Temüjin scratched his neck sheepishly. The other children looked in seemingly every other direction than Karamir’s.

“We’ve, uhm… Received a vision,” Ansong said quietly.

“Yes, uhm… An ominous one at that.”

That just made him more confused. ”What do you mean? What vision?”

“Have you ever woken up at night, only to have all your other family members do the same?” Batu asked in the way one would if one knows the example one is about to use already is incredibly complicated. “Oh, wait, no, that was inconsiderate of me, uh…”

“What he’s trying to say is that all of us had a dream, son,” Temüjin added helpfully. “A foreshadowing of things to come, and it’s important that, well…”

“It is important that you and His Holiness make it off the continent as quickly as you can,” Ansong finished.

”What? Why?” Karamir immediately asked.

“A great change is coming to this land, son… If you and His Holiness aren’t off this continent by the time it happens, you risk, well… Everything. It’s God’s word, son - take it and trust in it.”

A great change? Risking everything? He needed to know more than that. ”What’s going to happen?”

“We… We don’t know exactly. We can only speculate,” Batu answered regretfully. “God spoke of ‘tearing open the sky’, and we think it may have something to do with that. We don’t know what happens after that, but… God knows you have stayed with us for the night - and he told us that anyone not born of Hermes and Xiaoli must leave in all haste.”

Ansong held out a small package. “I have made you some food to take along for the journey. It’s flat cakes and sweetgrass jam and some stalkplums. Really, we are deeply sorry to just toss you out this way, but… If God is telling us a great change is coming and that you must leave before it happens, we cannot question Him.”

”Won’t the rest of you be in danger as well?” Karamir asked, furrowing his brow.

“God will not harm his own people,” Temüjin declared faithfully. “Anyone born of Hermes and Xiaoli will be safe; you, however, are born of Kalmar, and we sadly cannot vouch for your safety.”

”So anyone descended from Hermes or Xiaoli will be safe, but everything else can go ahead and leave or die, then?” Karamir asked, narrowing his eyes as a bitterness seeped into his voice. That seemed neither fair nor reasonable.

“We… Aren’t sure if the fate of others will be death, either,” Temüjin confessed, “but we know that this great change is all-consuming. What is your purpose in life, Karamir?”

”I intend to learn all that I can,” Karamir stated. ”So what is this change and why is it happening?”

“Again, we don’t know. We only know that if you intend to learn everything this world has to offer, this great change will hinder you. Please, we know we are being vague, but the truth is that we don’t know anything else,” Batu pleaded with nodding backup from his family.

“We were asked in our dream to see you off and make certain you left the continent as soon as possible. It’s a shame, really - was hoping you could held us fell some trees out back. You look like a strong lad, son. It’s a shame we never got to see you in action.” Temüjin shook his head and tugged at his graying beard. “Really sorry, son. There’s nothing more we can do for ya here except wish you a safe trip home and hope you make it off the land before… Well… Before it happens.”

”Fine. I’ll go.” Karamir said, his tone none too pleased. He went back into his tent, and returned a moment later with spear in hand. Without another word, he began walking out into the forest.

The dreamers looked at one another as he left, exhaled collective sighs, and exchanged words which became mumbles, then whispers as Karamir walked further and further away - even with his enhanced senses, he could barely hear them. To Arryn, however, the words were clear as day: The old gruff voice of Temüjin was the first to announce, “... Truly a shame. ‘Cept the clothes, I liked him a lot.”

“The ears were a bit odd, too,” came Erden’s voice.

“I never got to wrestle him…” came a whimper from Borte.

“We don’t question the command of God, Bort,” Temüjin said sternly. “The dreams told us to send him off, and so we did.”

“He didn’t even take my food,” Ansong sighed.

“There, there, my dear… I think getting sent away at this hour would ruin anyone’s appetite… Come on, let’s return to bed. Khublai’s about to fall asleep standing.”

The voices dissipated and instead became footsteps moving across the moist grass, followed eventually by the crunch of dry dirt and the grunts and groans of people attempting to sleep once more.




Once again, Arryn appeared on Karamir’s shoulder. ”So that’s it, then,” Karamir muttered. It wasn’t enough to leave the Palace; he now had to leave the entire continent? Was there truly any danger at all, or was that just an excuse to make them leave?

”It would be unwise to stay in a place you are not welcome,” Arryn noted. ”Especially when that place is watched over by a god. K’nell holds a tighter hold over his lands than even Kalmar; it’s almost greedy.”

”This change. What do you think it is?” Karamir questioned.

”I do not know. But if only the children of Hermes are truly safe from it, then countless creatures of this land could be put at risk. If that is the case, then K’nell would be a fool to allow it - more reason to leave, even if your safety was guaranteed.” Arryn explained.

”As quickly as possible, he said,” Karamir noted. ”How long do you think we have?”

”I do not know. But we should not delay. It will take months just for you to reach the coast, and from there I will have to carry you. No, we need to go faster,” the bird said, thinking. ”Stop. I have an idea.”

Karamir came to a stop, and Arryn left his shoulder, hovering in the air in front of him. The red feathers which speckled Arryn’s body were suddenly removed, pulled by an unseen force, accumulating and floating in the space between the two. New feathers swiftly grew back, only to be removed as well, joining the growing, weightless, red mass.

On and on the process continued, until the accumulated feathers were nearly the same height as Karamir’s body. They then began to take shape, binding together, forming into a levitating cloak. Karamir reached out to touch it, but it suddenly darted away from his touch, before rapidly circling around him, and he felt as though he was being judged. Then, the cloak began to speed up until it became a blur. The resulting wind ripped at Karamir’s hair and face, forcing him to shut his eyes for a moment.

And then, suddenly, it stopped. Karamir opened his eyes, but only saw Arryn. Then he felt something soft touch his shoulders, with two strings reaching out like arms to loosely tie themselves around his neck. He looked back and sure enough, he was now wearing the cloak.

”What did-” Karamir began to ask, only for Arryn to cut him off.

”With this cloak, you can now fly,” Arryn told him. ”At great speeds. I got the idea from when Hermes beat Kalmar in a race - you know the story. I decided I would make something similar, though this cloak also has some level of autonomy - it will still function and obey basic commands even when you are not wearing it, and it will ensure your safety against dangers you aren’t even aware of, but it will never defy you directly. Now go. Try to fly.”

Karamir wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but he thought of himself hovering in the air, and sure enough, he began to rise off the ground, with nothing except air touching his feet. His eyes widened, and he decided to fly even higher, so he floated above the forest canopy. He could fly he realized, as if he hadn’t quite believed it at first. Whenever he had flown before, someone else had to carry him, but now… he could fly on his own.

He glanced at the position of the Lustrous Garden in the sky, and turned to face the south. He took a deep breath, then began to move. Slowly, at first, until he began to pick up speed, and soon enough the forest itself was a blur. He began to laugh, as he suddenly felt a newfound sense of freedom and ambition fill him, causing him to briefly forget about K’nell or the Dreamers. So much potential had just been unlocked… he could go anywhere, at a speed which could rival gods.

Unfortunately, that meant he soon had to come to a stop, because Arryn had fallen well behind him. Still, even as he waited for the avatar to catch up, the smile did not leave his face.









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Karamir


Karamir's cloak had indeed granted him an immense amount of speed, and as it happened that speed was somewhat faster than Arryn's. He had tried to stay in pace with the bird, but every now and then he simply couldn't resist zooming ahead, and then waiting for the bird to catch up. Arryn was understandably annoyed. He passed trees, rocks, and mountains - nothing unusual. Until now: he found himself before a most unusual sight.

"What on Galbar is this?"

Before Karamir was a rickety blue staircase, spiraling up into the heavens.

Why?

Curious, he began to ascend, shooting upward into the sky. It passed by like a blur, as he shot up into the clouds. Up, and up, and up. The stairs seemed to have no end, and then he suddenly stopped, noticing that a detail in the passing blur had changed. The stairs were now covered in sharp, twisted spikes.

And then he realized he couldn't breathe.

He would have to head back down soon, he realized. He did not have long. And so he flew into the staircase, taking care to avoid the deadly spikes, and slowly began to ascend, flying circularly and diagonally.

And suddenly, the world began to shift around him.

He was no longer on stairs, but on solid ground, and he could breathe again. There were stone pillars all around. He glanced upward, but could not see what was at the top.

Karamir had seen more than his fair share of oddities in Diana's nightmares and at the Palace of Dreams, but this... this was something else. Spheres were supposed to serve a purpose. What purpose did this place serve? Was there any logic to it? He began to wander, brushing his hands against the pillars as he passed. At one pillar he looked up, and saw that it was bent at an angle - his gaze followed it, and as he saw its tip he realized it was not a pillar, but instead a giant spike. Were these all spikes, like the ones on the stairway?

He attempted to fly to the very top of the 'pillars', shooting upward at a quick speed. Minutes passed. Then hours. Still he could not see the tops. He was not getting anywhere, he realized.

Defeated, it was time to go back down. He began to descend. Within seconds, the cold stone ground came up to meet his feet. "What..." he gaped in astonishment.

None of this made sense.

Karamir sucked in a deep breath. "Okay, no," he told himself. "You've been in strange situations before. You've known suffering before. You've known isolation before." He would not let one strange location defeat him so easily.

A quick look around revealed no sign of the way he came in. That was an even greater cause for concern, but he suppressed the panic and instead tried to fill himself with resolve. This was but a temporary setback. There was a way out of here. There had to be. Or had he, once again, gone out of the river and into the ocean?

He supposed he would find out. But there was no use giving up, or giving in. So he chose a direction at random and began to walk.






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Karamir

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Abanoc





Karamir did not know how much time had passed.

He walked until he could not walk anymore, and when that happened, he allowed his red-feathered cloak to lazily levitate him a few inches off the floor. Eventually he would reach a point where he could not even manage that, and so he would pass out… only to wake up who knows how much later, and continue walking.

Karamir had thought that Arryn, the Avatar of the Hunting God, would have found him by now. He had deliberately slown his pace while flying in order to allow that to happen. But he found no such luck.

He tried to count how many times sleep claimed him, assuming each time he passed out was the equivalent of one day, but he eventually lost count. On and on he slogged, his eyes glazed over, his feet dragging. With each ‘day’ he began to lose hope.

Had his curiosity been his downfall?

It was a question he kept asking himself. Was this kind of fate what Arya or K’nell had tried to warn him against? Endlessly walking, endlessly searching, with no hope?

Then, suddenly, the world began to change. His weary eyes, fixated on the floor, did not even register it at first… until he looked up and saw that there were no more spikes.

The scenery of the Maze was replaced by the night sky lights, with no ground or walls in sight, but still he found footing. He should have stopped there, but his body was too slow to obey his command, and suddenly there was no more ground to stand on.

And he fell, and fell and fell as if there would be no end to it. But before he knew it he had landed on a marble platform surrounded by pillars of the same pearly white.

“What have we here.” A voice came from the center of the platform, from a throne atop a row of stairs. “A visitor.”

Karamir was on his knees, hands pressed against the cold, hard floor. He gazed up at the seated figure. His throat burned with thirst, and his stomach gnawed with hunger. ”Spikes… why were there spikes…?” he croaked through cracked lips.

“Hmm… You must’ve come from Eurysthenes’ plane. The architecture there can be...intriguing sometimes.” The man in robes stood from his throne and walked down the steps to reach Karamir. “And you must be Karamir. Kalmar’s creation.” He said as he knelt down in front of him and handed him a cup with water and a fruit.

No time for more questions. Not when he was starving and thirsting. Karamir wasted no time in gulping the water down, and then his teeth viciously tore into the fruit as if it was the last morsel he would ever get his hands on. He chewed, and then swallowed. ”Who are you?” he asked, his voice less weak than it was before.

“Abanoc, the god of Recording. And I have observed your journey through galbar, as well as all others’.” He stood up and offered Karamir a hand. “And I know you seek answers.”

Karamir set down the cup, and looked back up at Abanoc. Answers? Yes, that was what he wanted. And he could still remember the questions. He took the god’s hand.

Abanoc pulled Karamir up to his feet. “I cannot promise to answer them all, but sharing what I do know is of no burden. What knowledge do you seek?”

”What is this place?” Karamir asked, taking another look around.

“My realm. The Sphere I merely call the Observatory. As with all other gods in our conception, I too crafted a world of my own. From here all of Galbar is visible.” He pointed at the mirror atop the pillars. “That is how I came to know of you. And this book holds the information the mirror shows in its pages.” Then he showed the Archive.

Karamir raised his eyebrows. A book? He had seen books in the Palace of Dreams. Some had been barely legible, or downright confusing, but others had contained wealths of information. There were more pressing concerns on his mind, however. ”I was travelling with the Avatar of Kalmar - a bird named Arryn. Do you know where he is?”

“He entered Eurysthenes’ Maze looking for you. I have a limited vision of his domain, but I unfortunately can’t quite discern its patterns. If you can reach out to Eurysthenes himself he could show you the way if he was inclined to it, but I feel he wouldn’t. As the master of enigmas he wouldn’t so easily tell one the solution of his works.”

So Arryn was in the maze? And Karamir hadn’t met him. He could be anywhere. ”Do you know how long I was in there?”

“I have not seen your path through the Maze in its entirety, but from the moment you entered to now would represent about ten days in Galbar. You have a remarkable endurance to have lasted so long without nourishment.”

Ten days? How had thirst or hunger not killed him? Then again, Arryn did tell him that he had been made more resilient. Perhaps that explained it. If Arryn was in the maze, Karamir likely would not find him, and he did not want to risk going back in. Hopefully the Avatar would find his own way out, but Karamir couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt for making Arryn go there in the first place.

He pushed the feelings aside. He could not change a decision that had already been made ten days ago. ”So if you can see all of Galbar, and you record that information… does this mean you know everything?”

“Not quite, I’m afraid.” He replied with a grimace. “At first I was only able to see half of Galbar due to my lack of power at the moment. That has been remedied since long, but I lost parts of the creation of land and life. That and I also have no vision of the Spheres beneath Galbar’s surface and I can only see parts of the neighboring Spheres.”

”What can you tell me about the Architect?” Karamir suddenly asked.

“He forged Galbar before we gods were. He pulled our souls, and many others, from the various planes of existence and gave some of us the title of gods and Galbar for us to work with. He’s a quiet observer, much like myself, and his purposes aren’t clear to us. He sits above all of us inside a domain of his own, a moon, orbiting Galbar. That is all I know of him.”

Nothing Karamir had not been told already. It was almost disappointing. Still, there were other questions. And one particularly interesting one came to mind. ”You say you record all that happens on Galbar. For who - The Architect? Yourself? Other gods?”

“Other than power, The Architect imbued us with purpose as well. I was simply ordered to monitor Galbar, but I know he does not need me for that. Although I was not told to do so, I also intend to share what information I have with others. Due to the nature of my work, however, I cannot leave my Sphere unattended for long, even if my Archive also stores information. You also happen to be my first visitor, so I had but a single opportunity to share my knowledge so far.”

He was the first? Really? His eyes widened slightly at that. Suddenly this encounter felt so much more important. ”So you intend to share your knowledge with others?”

“Yes, though I was not able to as of lately. Long ago I gave the first Dreamer the means to reach my level of knowledge. It was the first time I taught someone anything, and though I hoped she would spread the seeds of her learnings through Galbar, she has done well to teach her children so far.” He said with a faint smile on his face, the first change from his ever present deadpan expression, but it quickly faded away.

Karamir, meanwhile, began to frown as he suddenly recalled a conversation. ”I do not think that knowledge will spread beyond Tendlepog,” he suggested. ”K’nell is very protective of his people; he discourages them from leaving, and both his ‘Warden’ and his Dreamers are wary toward outsiders. From what I heard, only one of them was willing to leave, and the rest could not understand why.” His frown deepened.

“Regrettably us gods have very different goals that we seek to achieve. We may find union at times, but only among a few of us. For whatever purpose The Architect willed this discordance to be, but as his own goals are a secret I do not know why he did so. My own goals are to record events and share information, and as long there are developments in Galbar I will have purpose. I could not foresee K’nell would intervene with the Dreamers as he did, but in doing so he hampered my own goals.”

Karamir nodded slowly. ”If the Dreamers do have this knowledge, then whatever it might be, it doesn’t seem fair that they keep it to themselves only. Would it be possible for you to share it with more people?”

“Certainly, but I will not reap their knowledge, even if they err in hoarding it. I hoped more would find their way here throughout the ages, but alas you were the very first. As we speak there are many people growing in Galbar, people that could make use of my knowledge. I will soon have to take matters into my own hands to remedy that.”

”What can you tell me of these people?” Karamir asked curiously.

“There is much to that question to answer summarily. Come here.” He directed Karamir to the Archive and, upon approach, golden glyphs appeared on the pages. “I highlighted the information regarding Galbar’s population on these pages. Though reading them may exhaust whatever energy you have left, it’ll be burned to your memory as if carvings on a rock’s surface.”

Karamir looked down at the glyphs, and it was as if information was flowing directly into his mind. He learned of the watery servants of Shengshi. The Ihokhur, stone-men of Ohannekeloi. The Jotundar, fiery soldiers of Sartravius, scattered and dispersed after decades of battle. The Selka; seals who had been granted sapience by the Blood God Kirron. The Pygmies, creations of the ape, Anu. The Nebulites, recently made by the God Orvus. The Kostral, cannibalistic spawn of Narzhak. The Luminous Ones, children of Asceal. And the Dragonborn, of which there were still only two.

With each new piece of information, his eyelids began to droop, and energy began to drain from him. His legs grew unsteady, he could no longer keep his eyes open, and before he hit the ground he had already fallen asleep.




He awoke some time later.

“You’ve come to, I see. I suppose that was too much for a recently starved man, even if of divine origin.” Abanoc’s voice could be heard from below. Karamir realized he had been placed on Abanoc’s throne. “Not the best place for one to rest, but it is what marble can offer.”

”All those people…” Karamir spoke softly, rising to his feet. He was still hungry and thirsty, but the sleep had restored a great deal of energy. ”They’re all down there, scattered across Galbar?”

“Yes. Were your sight the same as mine you would see them for yourself through the mirror. They all have their own nurturing deity, and though I wish not to interfere in my siblings’ goals, I am compelled to uplift them all to some degree.” He turned to face Karamir, now at the same level as he was. “Would you like to learn more?”

Karamir nodded, this time without hesitation. ”Yes,” he said, unable to prevent eagerness from creeping into his voice.

”Although…” Karamir then hesitated. ”Some of these things I would like to discover in person. It’s one thing to learn about it here, it’s another thing to go and experience it with my own eyes. Someday I would like to go and see all these different people for myself. But the world is dangerous; do you know of any ways I might become more powerful, so I can defend myself?”

Abanoc smiled upon hearing that. “There is a power recently discovered by a child of gods. Mana, energy flowing through all of Galbar, its Spheres and the gods that made them. It is made manifest through the elements of fire, water, earth and air and, should you learn to manipulate Mana, you can bend these elements as you will.” Abanoc sparked a flame in his hands as a demonstration. “I am no stranger to this energy, however. My own world before this one had energies all too similar to Galbar’s. But as you were born in Galbar you are held to its limitations of Mana. Take a seat, this could take long to pass on to you and I’m afraid you cannot learn from the Archive in your current state.”

Karamir obeyed, taking a seat on one of the steps instead of the throne. ”Alright,” he said. ”I’m ready to hear this.”

Abanoc started his lesson with no further ado. He explained that mana can be found in fires, huge bodies of water, gusts of wind and lands filled with plant life or rocky formations. He also told of how mana acts in these particular cases. Abanoc made more demonstrations on how manipulating raw mana into specific ways makes it manifest in the various elements and that it can be expended, but recovered over time after it had been manipulated extensively.

And throughout it all, Karamir soaked in every single detail. Mana was everywhere, and with it, he could do anything… well, maybe not anything, but the possibilities on what he could learn seemed nearly endless. ”So if I work hard enough, I can bend this mana to my will… how long do you think that will take?”

“Perhaps you can already perform the basics. Merely knowing of something can have a huge impact on things. But to master this will take time. It could be months, years, decades. Your talent and dedication will be the determining factor.”

Karamir nodded in understanding. ”Then I should get started as quickly as possible.”

“I wish you luck in your future endeavours. Before you leave, however, I have but one request of you. Wherever you go share whatever knowledge you can spare with the people you meet.” Abanoc approached Karamir and laid his hand upon his shoulder. “I will give you one last power before you leave. The people of Galbar speak different languages and write in different words. You will need to understand them if you hope to meet them yourself.” And through that touch he taught Karamir how to understand the spoken and written languages of Galbar.

Once more, information seemed to flow directly into his mind. His eyebrows widened in surprise. He recalled one of the books he had found in the Palace - the one where only a handful of glyphs were decipherable - and wondered if he would be able to read it all, should he somehow go back. It was unlikely that he would, but still - who was to say he wouldn’t find other books in his travels?

”Thank you, Abanoc.” he said. ”But is there a way to get to Galbar without going back the way I came?”

“Step over the boundary of that gate and you will find yourself in Galbar again.” He pointed at an archway directly beneath the mirror. “You can use the same path to return here should you desire.”

Karamir approached the archway, looked back, and nodded. ”I would like to return some day, if that’s alright. Thank you again.” And with those words he stepped through the gateway.

As soon as Karamir had left the Observatory, Abanoc returned to his throne. He could already see Karamir next to his stone book at the top of the Kick’s mountains. With a satisfied sigh, Abanoc returned to his duties.




Karamir blinked at the sudden sunlight. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust, but when they did he saw that he was in front of a stone book, near the top of a mountain. He turned around and was confronted by an impressive view. From this vantage point, he could see a vast distance.

The landscape looked somewhat familiar, and he felt as if he had seen it before. It was not Kalgrun, it was not Dragon’s Foot, and it was not Tendlepog… which meant it had to be that thin continent he once passed over with Diana.

He breathed in the fresh mountain air, which came as a great relief after his time in the maze. He was still hungry and thirsty. He needed food, and water. But first…

Abanoc had told him about mana. How it was everywhere, and how it was possible for him to harness it if he could figure out how. And so, he began to concentrate. How much mana was in the area right now, he wondered, being so close to the gateway of a sphere? His focus deepened, and he imagined a ball of fire appearing in his hand.

Then a tiny spark leapt from his finger, and he nearly jumped in surprise. It worked. Not quite the way he hoped, and far from impressive, but it was something. Alone on the mountaintop, he smiled to himself.

Though perhaps he should have tried something less dangerous than fire…









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Kalmar

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Roog

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&
Chopstick Eyes

&
Azura





The North Pole’s coastline came within sight, and Vendral swooped down to the icy shore, landing with such power that he threatened to crack the ice beneath him. The great blue dragon looked around, a surprisingly content expression on his many faces.

Kalmar was the first to step off, leaping from Vendral’s back and onto the ice below. Snow crunched under his feet. ”We go on foot from here.” he decided.

“Why?” came Vendral’s immediate response.

”Azura is the Goddess of Wind. For her to knock a creature that flies out of the sky would be trivial. We can resist it, but you can’t. So we continue on foot,” he beckoned for Arae and Roog to follow him down.

Arae slid down from Vendral’s back and proceeded to give each of his heads a pat. “Thank you for carrying us all the way here, Vendral,” Arae said.

Roog, for his part, less slid down off of Vendral’s back and more leaped; for the first time he had ever left his home, flight seemed an ample way to add stress to the voyage. Despite that he had calmed after the first hour of the journey and instead had agreed with himself that he simply could not abide flying unless he absolutely had to do it. Blessed ground was what rushed up to meet his paws and he offered a silent thanks to his creators and theirs for the foresight in creating such a glorious object of solidity.

”The idea of being struck from the sky seems very unappealing.”

”Being unable to fly doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?” Kalmar asked with a raised brow.

“Yeah, it’s really not,” said Chopstick Eyes, walking past in her bomber jacket without looking their way.

Kalmar hastily stepped in her path, raising his other brow. ”Chopstick Eyes,” he greeted her with an awkward nod. ”It’s been a long time. What brings you out here?”

Chopstick stopped, looked up, and shivered. There were icicles growing from the ends of her sticks. Some of them cracked and fell as the wood shuffled to take a peek at Kalmar’s new acquaintances. “I’m looking for Li’Kalla. Have you seen her?”

Kalmar shook his head. ”I have not. Arae, do you know where she might be?”

As all of this went down, Roog looked on with a distinctly visible grimace. His bronze-gold eyes were locked on the visage of the one his creator referred to as Chopstick Eyes, the resemblance to the moniker frankly uncanny. His moonlit teeth glowed as his maw hung slightly open in an uncouth sneer born entirely of a healthy mix of confusion and disgust. It was eminently clear that this was a difficult day for the Great Wolf.

I have no clue myself,” Arae answered. “While I could find her myself, that’ll take time that we currently do not have.” Looking at Chopstick Eyes, Arae snapped her fingers, producing a spark that quickly grew into a small flame. With a flick of her wrist, Arae sent it to Choppy, setting it to slowly rotate around her. “You seem rather cold, sister. This spark of the Hearth should help keep you warm for the time being,” Arae said.

Chopstick reflexively smacked the flame between her palms like a mosquito, realised what she’d done, then shook it off abruptly, shaking out her scalded hands. “Ow! Ow ow ow. Uh… Sorry, I’m flammable.” She scooped up the flame in a small jar and screwed it shut, tapping the glass. “There we go. I’m Butterwort, by the way, the one with the chopstick eyes. I don’t think we’ve spoken!” She bowed to Arae and the wolf-god in turn.

Kalmar held up a hand, and at once the burning sensation in her palms seemed to cool.

Arae returned the bow, and began to introduce herself, “I am Arae. A pleasure to meet you.

”This is Roog,” Kalmar said, pointing to the wolf, having decided to introduce his creations on their behalf. He then pointed toward the massive five-headed dragon just behind them, ”...and that is Vendral.”

“Thicc,” murmured Chopstick Eyes, nodding respectfully at the party’s largest specimen.

Roog looked on dumbstruck, barely able to construct a proper response. To the wolf-deity the order of things had been quite clear, most notably how things should look; it had helped he had resided in Kalgrun for decades and enjoyed a relatively simplistic design architecture when it came to the life of Galbar. Even the most fantastical creature he’d ever laid his eyes on, his own creator Katharsos, had been relatively tame in form by comparison. So instead he simply nodded his head in some form of respectful bow when Chopstick Eyes looked to him, further increasing his dread confusion as she introduced herself as “Butterwort”. Roog was not fond of this adventure one bit.

Kalmar turned back to Chopstick, a reluctant expression on his face. ”There is something we might need your help with…” he confided. ”What do you think of Azura and her scheme?”

Chopstick cocked her head midway towards patting Roog’s, then shrugged. “Dumb. I mean… I dunno. Maybe that’s a little harsh. It’s noble, I guess. I hope it makes her happy.” She reached into her pocket and withdrew a winter-spirit, stained all over by food colouring. The resemblance to an Alma was striking. “These are pretty.”

”It’s making a lot of people unhappy,” Kalmar pointed out. ”We’re going to go find more information, and maybe get her to stop. Will you join us?”

Another shrug. “I’m on my way to thank her for an old favour, anyway.” She swung her jacket out in front of her and started digging in the pockets, soon producing a thermos and a few containers, some lidded rattan baskets and paper bags full of candy. Fresh arms emerged to carry the goods and balance her as she wobbled distractedly on the polar ice. “Can I feed any of you guys? I’ve got hot chocolate, chai lattes, and some pumpkin spice, plus a bunch of steamed tonnikala. Vegetables are from down south, candy from the Bazaar.” She heaved a shoal’s worth of dried herring from an especially capacious paper bag and lobbed it at Vendral, who received it with a snap of his jaws and gulped it down.

”I do not eat,” came the murmured voice of Roog, seemingly ever more disgusted by growth of additional limbs that Chopstick Eyes was now sporting.

Kalmar took one of the bags and peered inside. He reached in, and pulled out a round sugar-coated orange gummy which had been turned hard as rock from the cold. The God of the Hunt tossed it into his mouth, and there was a sharp earth-shattering crack! as his divine teeth knifed through it. His eyes widened slightly. ”This taste is… interesting…” he said after a moment, rolling the bag shut. ”But we need to get moving. We might still have a long way to go.” And with that he proceeded northward.

Arae helped herself to some hot chocolate, taking a sip from a thick mug. The taste was remarkably pleasant, especially in the cold weather. She didn’t have to worry about it cooling down over time either, as she could keep it warm with her ability. “This reminds me of…” Arae began to say before she realized that her mind was leading nowhere on that train of thought. “What was I… never mind. This is a good drink. Thank you, Butterwort,” Arae recovered. She slowly sipped away at her drink as they continued moving. Chopstick shrugged a ‘no problem’, bagged her remaining goods and started gnawing a sizeable block of dark chocolate.

There was another crack, as another candy entered Kalmar’s mouth. ”What happened to the ‘Slippery Soul Serpent?’” he asked Choppy.

“It started singing,” said Chopstick Eyes. “Its voice sounds like its light looks. Fish, squid, whales, you name it, they all started coming to be eaten. My clone told me about it. It’s not a problem, though. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, and my clone sprouted a floating forest above it, so that the sea there would be especially rich. She has chopstick eyes too, by the way.” Still used to Ya-Shuur’s herder-wolves, she couldn’t help but wave a bone in Roog’s general direction, dry meat stuck to it like leather.

”...Clone?” Kalmar questioned with a quirked eyebrow.

Chopstick traced the faint scar running down the center of her body in a perfect vertical line with a fingertip. “Cut myself in half. She’s the other half. We’re twins.”

”I see… that explains quite a lot.” Kalmar commented.

Arae nearly choked on her hot chocolate when she heard Butterwort had cut herself in half, unable to comprehend what would even lead to such a situation. Even if it was a way to exercise godly power, surely there would’ve been a better way to go about it, wouldn’t there? Eventually, she decided to just accept it. What’s done was done, after all, and it seemed like there were no problems with her health, though Arae decided she would need to check up on the Pantheon later.

Roog had at last had enough of the entire situation with Chopstick Eyes’ offer of meat right off the bone particularly galling. This conversation was all well and good, of course, and perhaps if he had been in a more chipper mood he might have not only tolerated but thoroughly enjoyed other intelligent conversation. But, as it were with his first flight and the frankly alien entity fittingly called Chopstick Eyes, this conversation seemed to be going in numerous circles to nowhere that just somehow managed to keep making Chopstick Eyes even more unbearable to his naturalist sensibilities.

”Perhaps we should hasten our journey? The longer we tary, surely, the sooner we will be noticed.




The party continued through the frozen wastes. Kalmar took the lead, while Arae and Roog were immediately behind him. Vendral brought up the rear on foot, his massive size dwarfing them all by far, while a head faced every direction. Chopstick, whose legs were small, had dozed off on Vendral’s back.

Before them a lofty peak had been steadily rising above the horizon which was now joined by a ring of smaller mountains surrounding it. Even at this distance, a divine's sharp eyes missed no details of their destination that were not physically obstructed. Littered across the ring range where hundreds if not thousands of small statues that bore Azura’s essence, while atop the two highest peaks that they could see two greater examples both watching their approach with cold unblinking eyes.

Around the peak of the central mountain sat an immense structure of stone. It was shaped like two wheels, one inside the other, circling the mountain top. The Alma that Kalmar had seen traveling there seemed to be headed in that direction. After they passed over the ring of mountains, soaring up in the air currents generated by the wheels to join others coming to the north from inside the Sphere, that they could sense beyond the gateway surrounding the stone building.

As they got closer one of the Alma traveling north above them broke off from its flight path and descended to the frozen floor some way ahead of them. There it patiently awaited their arrival as it projected the image of a whale from its head mounted soul Gem.

”Hello there.” spoke the whale in a slow steady voice. ”What brings you all to this far north?”

Kalmar stepped forward. ”Where is Azura?” he demanded calmly.

”In the sky bastion.” the whale responded, equally calm as the Alma waved a wing up towards the mountain’s top structure. ”I apologise on Azura’s behalf for her not coming to greet you personally, but she’s had two sets of unexpected guests today already. One bad, one strange. I do so hope you’re arrival will be good news to balance it out.” the whale did not sound confident however.

Kalmar looked at the soul crystal on the Alma’s forehead, which appeared to be powering the image, and he grit his teeth. ”That remains to be seen. Take us to her.”

”I see. Who exactly am I taking there?” the whale asked ”And will you be needing a lift?” the Alma glanced at the mighty dragon as it asked.

”All of us,” Kalmar answered, ”And we are capable of transporting ourselves.”

”I meant names. My apologies for not being clear,” the whale explained patiently.

Apologies to you as well,” Arae said, bowing slightly. Gesturing to each being, she introduced them, “This is Kalmar, Butterwort, Roog, and Vendral. I am Arae.

Chopstick snored.

”Thank you Arae. To repay your courtesy, my own name is Luis.”

Roog had remained silent during the entire experience, his eyes darting back and forth from the sights with intense interest. From his Heavenly Father Roog had inherited a vision most attuned to seeing the qualities borne in a soul and this “alma” carried one worthy of pause. The soul LOOKED different by every stretch of the word and the concept of an altered soul being held in such a way both horrified and inflicted intense curiosity in the Wolf of Demise. When it projected a form for itself, that of the vast creatures Roog occasionally found beached back on Kalgrun, Roog was drawn in even further. As the others said there piece and he was at last introduced to the entity by Arae he spoke up.

”How is it that you have come to be this way, whale-light. I trust your creation is Azura’s doing?”

”I was made by her in ages past, to help capture the storm now held in the maelstrom by blocking out the dark moon’s withering light. I have since grown beyond that singular purpose. If you are wondering how I am speaking with you, this avian, known as an Alma, has the ability to project sound and images seen by its fellows.” Luis explained.

”Powered by souls,” Kalmar voiced with disgust. Arae was unsettled by the thought of it as well, shivering slightly.

”Artificial souls.” Luis clarified. ”Nothing was slain to make the constructs, if that is what you are worrying about.”

”Explain; artificial how?”

”The souls you see on this Alma are known as soul gems. These are similar, structurally, to soul crystals that are made from the souls of dead life, but unlike them, they were never alive to begin with. Azura crafts the soul gems directly from soul ash, while composing rigid instructions into them to create artificial life, which, while lacking anything resembling traditional intelligence, can still perform a limited set of highly complex tasks.”

Roog watched with eyes closed to bronze slits as the Alma explained itself. It was obvious that gears turned in the mind of the Great Wolf as he continued to listen silently to the explanation. At last his maw opened ever so slightly, the pale moonlight of his fangs glowing from behind black fur. From his posture and the rising flames of his jet black fur it was clear something had caught in the depths of Roog’s psyche.

”I see.”

Arae relaxed a little upon hearing that the soul gems were not exactly alive, but was still apprehensive about them. They were still created with soul ash, the very foundation for all life on Galbar. At what point is the line drawn between life? Was it only intelligence, or was it something even more primal? At any rate, she would have to agree to disagree. This was a complicated argument, and would take too much time to unravel at the moment.

”We’ve spent enough time down here. Let’s go see Azura,” Kalmar stated, not appearing satisfied with Luis’s explanation. before leaping backwards onto Vendral’s back. Arae followed suit, hopping up onto Vendral and sat down with both legs dangling down one side.

”Very well then.” Luis said as the Alma took flight. ”If you’d please follow me, I can take you to the Sky Bastion.”

Roog, following the lead of Kalmar and Arae as they ascended the great, five-headed dragon’s hide to find a proper perch on his back. Roog lowered himself close to the ground before leaping up, landing on the beast’s back only to lay down as close to the hide as possible, maw closing on one of the spikes protruding from Vendral’s back.

The small bird led them up and over the mountain range circling the north pole. In between the range and central peak, any indication as to the vault’s true location had been masked by Ashalla’s ice sheet and a cessation of Alma to and from the vault. That flow now instead headed for the double ringed fortress that was their destination.

As they ascended, the darkness that had accompanied them on their trek gradually washed away until they reached the summit, where both Heliopolis and the Luminous Garden could be seen forever dancing away from one another. Visible too, was the Blue, stretching out endlessly around Azura’s home and filled with all manner of Tonnikala, some strange and some familiar, particularly to Kalmar. First among these creatures whas a whale of truly titanic proportions who drifted right next to the sky bastion who matched the image they had been shown below. Near them floated another whale shaped structure, out of the top of which a massive horn of smooth soul crystal grew.

”Welcome to the Sky Bastion.” Luis said without use of his Alma proxy. ”Please make your way inside.”

The lone Alma led them to a large gateway that had been thrown open to grant them entrance. Inside was a massive room that was empty save for four individuals and a large round table with seats set around it for six humanoids and two quadrupeds. A large gap was left facing the exit for Luis, and another inside for the dragon. Three out of the four people waiting for them were made of stone and had a strange red energy. One was a stone cat, another a blank faced man and the final one radiated Azura’s power along with the non Armonia welcomer. This Azura was a humanoid with turquoise scaly flesh and red fins that emerged from her hips, elbows and where her hair should be. She wore a plain blue tunic and a pair of navy pantaloons with gaps cut in the sides to allow her fins to emerge from them.

The four of them had been in conversation with someone via another Alma, but the sounds of that talk along with muffled sounds of battle where cutoff as the Divine visitors approached. The Alma left past them as the four hosts formed a welcoming party and awaited Vendral’s landing.

The floor shook as Vendral swooped down, and Kalmar wasted no time in leaping off. He looked to the metallic creature with Azura’s aura and began walking forward. ”We came here for answers.” he stated firmly.

One of the figures, a tall being that resembled a man in size but held no visible face turned to Azura and asked, “Are all of these gods so ill mannered like this one?”

Arae slid off Vendral and stepped forward, bowing apologetically. “Apologies. We do not mean to be rude, but we do have important matters to talk to with our sister Azura. Azura, please listen to what we have to say.

”Ah Kalmar, your reputation precedes you.” the metallic Azura said merrily before the other addressed the matter at hand.

”Your questions will be answered. But first let me introduce you to Ringol.” the fish woman indicated to the male Armonai who had spoken. ”Watcher.” the stony cat nodded its head in response. ”I shall be impartaily observing this meeting in the name of Ludicium, guardian of the Void.”
”And Cerule.” The avatar bowed theatrically at the mention of her freshly minted name.

”You’ve met Luis all ready, of course. He’s let me know who you all are in advance.” the whale in question had drifted closer to the entrance now that they had entered, though left plenty of the Blue visible rather than boxing the guests in.

”Finally I am, of course, Azura. Please do take a seat and then we can get started.” she finished before inviting them to do just that.

Roog had remained on Vendral’s back for the time being, watching with distrusting eyes; this place emanated an unearthly glow to his soul-sight and everything about it seemed off. It wasn’t natural, at least the natural he had been born into, and much of that played off the voice of that beast chained deep in the back of his mind. As Azura finished her own introduction and bade them sit Roog finally hopped from Vendral’s back without a single sound announcing his descent. It was something, at least, that Azura offered answers to the questions they’d come to ask; perhaps they could even convince her to see the error of her ways and recant.

Kalmar glared at the tall, faceless man - a glare that sent a clear warning. He stepped forward, pulled out a chair, and sat down. ”You’ve been taking souls and putting all of Galbar at risk,” he stated bluntly. ”How do you justify it?”

If at all his stare phased the faceless man, it was impossible to tell. Rignol said nothing further, but did not take a seat.

Arae mentally sighed, then began to clarify, “What Kalmar is trying to say is that we are currently facing… well, a bit of a crisis. Because of all the souls you’ve been collecting and placing in ‘soul crystals’, there will soon be a shortage of soul ash to create new life. I’m sure you’re aware that the only way to obtain soul ash is to, well, recycle souls of the departed through Katharsos’ cycle of rebirth, and you are impeding that cycle. Fortunately, we’re still in the early stages, so there’s no immediate problem. However, if this keeps up, new souls cannot inhabit new bodies, and all life on Galbar and in every one of our siblings’ spheres will eventually end. We would like to ask you, Azura and company, if you have any solutions to our predicament.

There was a brief moment of silence as the words settled in. Chopstick snored a little too loudly, and tumbled off the dragon’s back.

She landed in a floppy heap and cracked awake in time to catch her hat as it fell. Looking around, her sticks splayed in wonder for a moment as she took in first the architecture, then the strangers, then the smells. Sniff, sniff. Sniff…

“Azura!” Chopstick leapt in locust fashion directly onto the fish-woman who smelled of bird, fell short of her neck and grabbed her waist in a hug instead, legs trailing on the ground. “I’m so happy to see you and I just wanted to say I’m really glad you saved me that one time! It meant so much to me! Mwah. Hmm, you’re less feathery than before.” She retracted her eyes enough to kiss fishzura on the chest and turned to the rest of her crew. “Sorry for sleeping through that big negotiation thing you guys were all so excited for. How’d it go?”

”Incomplete,” growled Roog in response, his predatory gaze fixed on Chopstick as the odd-god proved once more the disconnect she felt towards the happenings of reality.

“Dang,” said Choppy.

Azura meanwhile, after a brief moment of surprise, had found a genuine smile upon her lips. One arm wrapped around Choppy while she used her other one to ruffle the little Goddess’s rubbery hair. ”Barely started in fact. Nonetheless, it is good to see you are doing well since we last met. A lifetime ago now, though I still remember it clearly.”

”You might say it was a character forming event.” Cerule said ”So in a way we should be thanking you too, as probably wouldn’t be here without your bout of misfortune.” the second divine of the wind was leaning back in her chair in a relaxed manner even as she kept a careful eye on the guests.

”Which brings us back to the matter at hand.” Azura’s smile left her lips, replaced with a patient line. ”Which is the consequences of soul ash being a finite resource. I should begin with by being upfront about what will likely be the main point of contention of this discussion. I don't currently have a working solution. My power and intellect have been put to task of building a stable, and well protected, foundation for the work that is yet to come.”

Kalmar leaned forward. ”And what if you can’t find a solution? What then?”

”There are many solutions. The problem is picking one and making sure it is seen through.” Azura said carefully ”Worst case scenario, we put the creation of new mortal life on hold for a time. A curse of infertility perhaps, or placing them into stasis till a solution is found.”

Kalmar’s expression darkened, but it was someone else who spoke first. “Should the worst case scenario occur, I cannot abide by this course of action,” Arae said with stern disapproval. “We are managing a world teeming with life. We are not playing with toys, judging the world through the view of statistics. I cannot allow the entire world to be punished when we gods and goddesses are the ones at fault.

Chopstick unhugged herself from fishzura and gave a baffled shrug, sitting crosslegged.

Azura’s brow furrowed ”Is not being consigned to annihilation upon death also the world being punished when the gods are at fault for not making a better system than the one we have? Souls are not lifeless flesh to be returned to the soil, they are still people like you and I. And they deserve better than Katharsos’s pyres.”

”The system of death here is, frankly, cruel and unusual even compared to the pretty crap one that we had back where we came from. You can do better.” Cerule chided the goddess who had spoken down to them.

”It is not a punishment,” Kalmar growled. ”Creatures live and they die. When they die, their time is over, and new creatures take their place. The souls continue on, but those souls will continue to decay until nothing of value remains. None of us created soul decay, so don’t you dare hold us at fault for it. And if you put all life into stasis, or make everyone infertile, then all life on Galbar will end. Now, you claim you have solutions: what are they?” he demanded.

”Ok. Three things. One no. It doesn’t end all life on Galbar. Mortals sit atop ecosystems. Temporarily removing them and only them won’t cause an ecological collapse. Two. Soul decay is no longer a natural problem, as Orvus has created creatures that cause it. Three. Soul decay might not be created, but the existing system simply takes it as given, when it can be avoided.”

Kalmar looked at Azura as if she had just declared the sky to be purple. ”To your first point… mortals, animals, plants… all use souls. If you make them infertile and fail to find your solution before their lifespans run out, then yes, all life will end. To your second point: Soul Decay is still a natural problem regardless of what Orvus creates; he just made it worse. And to your last point: I ask again, how can it be avoided? What are these solutions you keep claiming to possess?”

Roog had watched and waited patiently as the greater gods expressed their qualms and snapped back and forth with their clearly well seated beliefs. This Azura had immediately proven herself to be in opposition to Roog’s initial expectations, but despite her collected demeanor he continued to find her positions at odds with his own. Nevertheless he was determined to hear out her position as best he could while his creator and Arae expressed their own. Unsurprisingly, however, a head was rapidly reached as the debate began to become more poignant.

”Goddess-Azura,” rumbled Roog, his maw dropped open as his eyes locked on her, ”Before you answer my creator, I have a query to pose; my life was born of nature, coalesced from Soul Ash naturally. What you propose would doom myself and creatures like me to nonexistence, regardless of your well intentioned aims. Consider then your solutions; by all rights, your actions will end one or more kinds of life, including my own. What solutions, then, do you have for such a doom? How will you determine which living creatures belong in your new world?”

”See, Roog gets it. Just the mortals would be prevented from multiplying for a time. Void damn it, it was just an example too.”

”You don’t understand,” Kalmar cut in. ”Mortals have lifespans. If you can’t come up with a solution before those lifespans run out, and they can’t make more of themselves, they will go extinct. And if you think that the other gods will stand by and allow you to do that to their creations, think again.”

”Ah! And there is the first threat. I was wondering how long it would take.”

”It’s not a threat,” Kalmar glowered. ”It’s a fact. If you threaten the existence of other gods’ creations, or try to forcibly render them infertile, the other gods will try to stop you. Why wouldn’t they? And if you can’t take this conversation seriously, you have no right to decide the fate of mortal souls.”

Azura ignored what she had decided was a developing feud between Cerule and Kalmar and focused instead on Roog’s question ”To address that distinction first, the line does not purely include mortals, but some creatures of intelligence a touch below them. The line itself is a concession that prevents the entire system from grinding to a halt immediately. Best case scenario, that line does not need to exist.”

”In truth, Lady of Gales, my question probes at the reasoning behind your actions,” Roog had stepped forward as he spoke, moving to the edge of the table where he stood with his head held up and out of a defensive posture, ”I fundamentally disagree with your conclusion. You view the disintegration of souls as a destruction when it is creation. The path we are on is as intended and oblivion for all things, ourselves included, is to be welcomed; oblivion is a beginning, not an end.”

Azura cocked her head to one side ”A beginning to what?” she asked

”Everything.”

“...What the fuck?” Chopstick threw some hands up around her head, unable to sit quietly and watch the conversation flick back and forth over it much longer. “Hello? Hello? Are we still talking money here? If you run a book through a paper shredder, it’s gone. Recycling the paper doesn’t bring back the book. You’d have to write it, again, and… And that’s not likely to happen. With souls. I’m talking about souls.” She took a breath. “I get that you’re all trying to make the soul ash last as long as possible. I get that! But… Like, are we really running that low? Honestly? How long do we have before all the little people stop being able to make more little guys?” She huffed. “How long do we need to keep making new little guys anyway? We’re not gonna be here forever.”

Roog looked over his shoulder at Chopstick, throwing her an unsurprised yet disappointed glance. This creature revealed much of its ideology and the very core of what Chopstick expressed as fact actively flew in the face of the wolf’s own deeply held beliefs.

”I do not understand your analogy; you deny the potential for new life. Life blossoms even after death; the world takes back what it has lost. Souls are as flames; even when extinguished their embers spark new blazes, all born of that first fire. Soul Ash is the same; though the original soul is caught in deflagration, many new souls will be born from the ashes. You see the cycle too narrowly.”

“Cycle schmycle. I’ve used soul ash, I know what it does,” said the one with the chopstick eyes. “The fact that new shit gets made doesn’t mean we’re not torching old shit that could still be good.”

”By the very nature of this act will the current path be destroyed; such a decision should not be made by one person alone.”

“Lock up your souls, then. Just spray your dudes with Alma repellent, or whatever,” Chopsticks waved. “Just… Geez, figure something out.”

”We are here to figure something out,” Kalmar interjected, voice filled with impatience. He shifted his gaze to Azura. ”You continue to evade my question. For the third time: what are your solutions?”

Azura waved off attempts by Cerule to continue bickering with the god of the hunt and actually got down to the business of laying out her current theoretical solutions. ”There are a number of avenues of research when seeking solutions. The most obvious is creating more soul ash. Initial experiments have led me to find that it is entirely possible to produce it like we would any other material, though my current method is woefully inefficient. We could brute force this solution of course, but it would be a massive power draw, one that would only increase as mortal populations do so. In my opinion this path is a last resort or a long term project.”

”The second avenue is to replace the need for souls entirely to produce a replacement metaphysical receptacle for the mind that is based on something easier to produce than soul ash. This could either reliance souls entirely or be a receptacle to place the minds of the dead within while their souls are returned to the cycle as their bodies are.”

”The third is to remove death entirely, at least for mortals. The Ihokhetlani are proof that this is entirely within our means to achieve. In ending death we stave off the soul crisis almost indefinitely and improve the lives of mortal charges greatly in the process.

”Finally we have reincarnation were the souls of the dead are reborn into new bodies wholly intact instead of as ash, creating an actual cycle of rebirth. I’ve managed to do this in a controlled environment with krill, so I know it is possible. Rather simple in fact. It would be quite the infrastructure project to spread and automate this system across all of Galbar however.”

”So. Your thoughts?” she asked finally.

Kalmar considered her words for a moment. ”Your first and fourth ideas have the most promise, I think.” he said at last. ”The problem with the first way is, as you said, the power. The problem with the fourth way would be that we would need to find a way to reverse or halt soul decay on a massive scale.”

Perhaps Orvus may have a solution for this particular problem,” Arae remarked. “If he truly has claimed Soul Decay as part of his abilities, then perhaps it is not too much of a stretch for him to create a system that can deal with soul decay. Of course, that would depend on his cooperation as well.

Before we move on with that, though, I would also like to point out the issue with memories,” Arae added. “Every soul is going to retain their memories after their bodies have perished, and simply placing them into new bodies will create new problems we’d have to fix.

”We make them forget, then.” Kalmar suggested. ”When they are reincarnated they start out fresh. A young mind is a fragile thing anyway, unable to retain much knowledge. Katharsos has experience with removing memories, and Abanoc is the God of Recording. Maybe we could ask Abanoc to find a way to store these memories, and restore them to their owners after death, which they can reflect on as they await their rebirth?” he wondered.

”I do not agree with these conclusions.”

Roog had listened once more, simply sitting back and allowing the gods to speak their mind on the subject. Azura’s proposals, of course, had proven interesting but reeked of a perspective antithetical to Roog’s own. As the Great Wolf listened he became considerably more aware of his separation from the gods by their own expressions with one after the other making it all the more evident. A displeased sigh escaped as a hiss between his teeth as Kalmar responded with his own take, proving once and for all what Roog had feared.

”The solutions you propose are flawed. They require artificial action and change to a system that is not the danger. You view the destruction and recreation of a soul as opposed to reincarnation when it is one in the same. Your perspective endangers those creatures under your care. Mortality is natural and an end to one life and the beginning of a new one is intended in the system from which all creatures are born; all but you First-Born, at least.”

Kalmar rose to his feet. ”Roog, come. I need to speak to you alone.” And with those words he began walking to the exit. ”Vendral, you will come as well.”

Roog watched for a moment before rising onto all fours and following behind his creator.

Rignol, having stood silently for the entirety of the meeting so far, spoke at last as he watched the three leave. “Perhaps it best for a recession?”




Vendral flew them onto the peak of one of the smaller, adjacent mountains. Kalmar climbed down and waited for Roog to do the same.

Roog had been silent on the short ride, lost in thoughts borne on the web of words spun in the room amongst the First-Born gods. As Vendral landed and Kalmar climbed free of the beast’s back, Roog leapt down to join him. There was a look clearly marring Roog’s visage, showing displeasure for any who had the vaguest hint of how a wolf emotes. Despite the clear need to voice his concerns Roog remained quiet, waiting for his creator to initiate.

Let me make this clear, Kalmar’s voice spoke inside Roog’s head. To any observer, the only sound would be the wind. I do not see any flaws in Katharsos’s system, and any alternative that Azura offers will be unnecessary, and perhaps even inefficient. However, it is clear that she will not listen to reason, which means the only other way to make her stop will be to use force, and do you know what happens when gods clash?

Inefficient, alternatives, avenues of research, the thoughts boomed from Roog’s mind with thunder like efficacy. There was clear power and emotion behind those thoughts, proof that Roog had been shaken to the core. His life, though short and more similar to that of a mortal beast, had been spent under the assumption that the Gods were as Katharsos and Kalmar. They had been sensible when he first was born into the world and had seemed to fit their monikers as the young wolf had expected. Each new God he met had changed this fundamental view of the world like nails in a coffin and the argument unfolding before him only exacerbated that realization.

These words sicken me, to hear them spoken of so callously in regards to life. It pains me to hear them. The Chopstick Eyed One, she speaks of wealth, while Azura speaks of Research and alternatives. Even you, creator, use their words; inefficient. A poisonous term. My interest is not in these things, creator, but in life and nature and the creatures that crawl and walk and fly.

Roog groaned with displeasure, his head held low and the fires of his tail flecking and spitting black sparks and embers towards the ground. He looked back up towards his creator with indignation burning in his bronze gaze.

I do not know what happens when the First-Born clash, Creator, but I will not slink quietly into the night so that they might find success without resistance.

Surprisingly, Kalmar nodded. Azura and Chopstick speak far too lightly on this matter, I agree. I count Chopstick Eyes as a friend, but I know she is strange and unreasonable. As for Azura… I fear Arae was right - she speaks of mortals almost as if they are toys, and does not truly value them; not as much as she thinks she does. As for me, despite the words I use I share your concern; the priority should be the preservation of nature.

[color=orange]And yet… the God of the Hunt was not finished. ...I have seen what happens when gods clash. Orvus, God of Desolation, once tried to kill Phystene, the Goddess of Nature; their battle scarred a continent, and created abominations which roam the sea to this day. Vakk, God of Speech, once tried to attack K’nell, and was nearly killed for it. Sartravius, God of Heat, and Ekon, God of Fear, both raised armies to attack Shengshi, the God of Rivers. While neither Sartravius nor Ekon were on the field personally, their armies still caused and suffered great destruction; thousands were needlessly killed, and entire forests were reduced to ash.

Kalmar allowed only a moment for that news to sink in. This is why we must work with her. The only alternative is to stop her with force, which could destroy the things we all seek to protect. But if we compromise, perhaps we can find a solution that appeases all while still maintaining a working natural order. There are already gods who seek to undo existence in its entirety; we cannot divide ourselves further.

Of his thoughts Roog suddenly became well guarded, his face becoming a mask of low emotions that appeared no different from a wolf in the wild. His maw opened gently and his voice echoed forth, sounding tinny and controlled.

”I understand. I will not forget this lesson, creator.”




The two returned to the meeting, expressions guarded, with Vendral following closely behind.

Kalmar approached the table, but he did not sit.

”Here are my conditions,” he said, speaking directly to Azura. ”So long as the creation and progress of life is not halted, we will help you find an alternate solution to Katharsos’s pyres. We will require full access to this location as well as the Soul Crystal storage. At some point we will need to reach out to Katharsos himself. He has more experience with souls than anyone, and he is not unreasonable; perhaps we can convince him to compromise and prevent open conflict. Additionally: I repeat that the progress and creation of new life cannot be halted; if a new solution is not devised before we run out of soul ash, then that may mean returning some of the crystals to the pyres so that the cycle may continue.”

”If you accept these terms, I offer you my aid in defending this place and looking into a solution. Do you agree?”

“Ooooh, contract law!” said Chopstick, clapping eagerly over the wok in which she was currently flash-frying some bright yellow noodles.

"You should not so quickly agree to this proposal, Azura." Rignol spoke at last. He then pointed at Kalmar and said, "This one speaks of his own conditions, and assumes the others will follow. A pretentious display." He said letting his hand drop."I also find this meeting lacking key viewpoints from Katharsos, God of Death and your Architect. Deciding on the future of this universe without key players would be unwise and arrogant. You can debate back and forth until the end of time about which is right and what is wrong but without those two agreeing to anything, then it is pointless. Unless you plan on overthrowing the both of them less they disagree?"

Kalmar met Ringol’s words with a glare. ”I speak only for myself, and I am suggesting that we contact Katharsos to see if he will agree. If he doesn’t then things will change. The deal I offered was for things as they currently stand. Nobody needs to be overthrown. Next time, consider your own words before you accuse others of pretentiousness.”

"Who is 'we' then? Do you speak for the others? It would make sense for a being such as yourself to assume that others would follow you. Oh what was the saying where I come from… The Alpha of a pack? Mhmm, it matters not I believe. The others will surely follow you regardless of your conditions. Forgive me if I sound pretentious, God of Hunting. I speak only so that Azura may listen. I would hate for her to be taken advantage of, given the current circumstances." Rignol said, his voice like a golden serpent. Or, as the case may be, a sizzling golden noodle.

Finally Azura addressed her guests once more ”You have, when it comes down to it, given me little reason to trust you. We are strangers to one another. To give you access to the soul crystals at such an early stage would be baring my throat and gambling with countless souls that have entrusted us with their protection in the process. If we want this to work, we will need to start with terms smaller in scope than your initial offer.”

Contract law, contract law, mouthed the one with chopstick eyes, dishing up the noodles.

Kalmar crossed his arms. ”I could say the same to you. I have an obligation toward my creations and to my worshipers. There is a chance that some of them might end up in this vault. Why should I not have access to them? Why should I trust you and you alone to safeguard them?” He leaned forward. ”Nobody in existence can truthfully claim I do not keep my word. I watch over an entire continent that I will continue to fill with life. And I have many friends and allies among the rest of the gods.” His gaze swept across the table, settling on one individual. ”Chopstick Eyes. We made a deal in the past, yes?”

“That’s certainly true!” said Chopstick Eyes, offering a bowl of curry.

Kalmar accepted the bowl with a nod. ”And I held true to my end of the deal, yes?”

“You did! He beat up an overfed fish for me, by the way,” she nodded to the rest of the assembled divinities. “I know what that sounds like, but it was really important.”

Kalmar nodded reluctantly, but that reluctance lasted only a moment, and then resolve returned to his voice. ”It was. And that was not the only deal I have ever made, or the only assistance I have offered,” he declared, in his usual blunt and serious tone.

”When Orvus attacked Phystene, I was the first to come to her aid. It was my idea to form a pact against those who would senselessly destroy Galbar. I stood against Orvus alone, to make sense of his motives and convince him to change course. I aided Asceal in the creation of one of her children, without needing to be asked or offered anything. I met another god when they were at their most vulnerable and I helped them recover at no benefit to myself. When Shengshi was attacked, even though we had our disagreements, I did not hesitate to come to his aid.” The Hunter paused briefly, slurping up a noodle, before continuing on. “If you think I’ll put a knife in your back, you are mistaken.”

Azura leaned back in her chair, chin leaning on the base of her hand and fingers curled up before her mouth as she considered this response before glancing at her past self. Despite Azura having been the one to raise the objection, out of the two it was Cerule who remained the most sceptical.

”We’re not going to believe that self professed series of accolades are we? A third of it was threats veiled as boasting about his power and influence.”

”Asceal called him a friend, and we met this child of theirs however briefly.” Azura responded

”She also called him too unreliable to be brought into this. Case and point: Orvus. All he seems to have done is made him more subtle about being a destructive prick.” the other replied, referencing the battle currently ongoing against the soul decaying infestation.

Unreliable? Kalmar’s eyebrows arched in frustration. It seemed as though Asceal had taken to slandering other gods as a hobby.

”At least unlike him these people came to talk to us.” Azura responded.

”Talk to us about destroying those we have saved. By the way, the last minute ‘I have a responsibility to my people’ kinda jars with that whole position, mate. We are not agreeing to that no matter what. ” Cerule’s fist pounded the table to punctuate the declaration of the uncrossable line.

Chopstick shuffled in her seat.

”No. We aren't. However I believe we can accept some of the rest of the parts of the offer which we can actually agree on and are immediately relevant.”

She turned back to Kalmar ”I can agree to you having supervised access to this location and the vault of souls for the purpose of reaching an alternative. I also agree with the proposed future meeting with Katharsos. When it comes to reactions to the soul crisis I believe there is a fundamental disconnect between what we find valuable about life, the system itself versus the individuals it produces, that we could argue about till the end of time. Instead of doing so, I suggest we table the matter entirely and focus on ensuring that the discussion never needs to occur. Is that acceptable?

Azura glanced over at Cerule who sighed and nodded.

”I’ll add another condition to that deal,” Kalmar said. ”The Alma who pass through my lands are not allowed to be armed, or possess any offensive abilities. My avatar watched one of them shoot a fleeing mortal in the back, right in front of that mortal’s family, so I’ll not trust them to roam unchecked among my own creations. And if we ever reach a point where our deal needs to be broken, I will expect complete and total honesty because I am prepared to offer the same; I will not tolerate betrayal or deception.”

A brief look of surprise and dismay crossed Azura’s features before she frowned. ”They aren't supposed to do that.” she said, as an alma fluttered over to her and landed on her arm. She began humming as verse spilled from the bird’s soul gems and line dup for inspection before her.

”I can guarantee” Cerule said as her younger self inspected the Alma’s instructions ”That if this pact becomes untenable we won’t be quiet about the fact.” Outside there were a few flashes of light and accompanying ‘pew pew’ sounds as Azura remotely test fired an Alma’s light breams.

”As for disarming them, that is not easy. It’d be like trying to disarm a dragon. We’d have to rip out the bundles of power in them without killing them and then try and instruct them in how to comprehend something as abstract as borders. Could do it, but it’d be expensive.” Cerule explained.

The verse retracted back into the Alma as Azura completed her adjustment. ”A tragic result of Asceal’s blessing that I severely underestimated the power of. I’ve adjusted their behavior so that they are much, much more careful and added some settings for lower intensity fire as well. The incident you described should not happen again.” she said as the bird flew away.

”As for disarmament, it might be easier to create an unarmed crystalizer from scratch if you are willing to aid in its creation?” she added.

”That would be easier,” Kalmar agreed. ”But I would expect it to prioritize my commands above all else.”

”Just you? Not you and your friends here?” Cerule asked as Azura was busy making blueprints in her mind. ”Also are any of you in on this? The more the merrier.”

I do not desire any responsibility over them, and I would not know what to do with them if I did,” Arae said, shaking her head as she held a palm up in refusal.

“I could do it,” said Chopstick Eyes, pulling a business card from her pocket and pushing it to the middle of the table. “We only provide the highest-quality diplomatically neutral mortal soul vessels here at Stickchop Industries™. I can even think of a price that wouldn’t inconvenience any of you one bit.”

Roog watched with steely gaze at the precession of diplomacy that unfolded before his eyes, his emotions now guarded beneath that most feral of visages. Bronze eyes regarded those about them as they spoke but it seemed he was loathe to respond, quiet as he was despite plans and deals being bandied and bartered about. The very edges of his midnight hide flickered and bit at the air around him, crackling noiselessly. As he was addressed alongside Kalmar towards his intentions he at last spoke, his voice coming out sounding of a whisper but at the volume of a normal speaking tone.

”I will not assist; you have not compromised on your ends, only the means by which you achieve them. I will not see such creatures fly over Kalgrun by my own actions.”

Roog, Kalmar’s voice could be heard within Roog’s thoughts. Think about it. The creatures will answer to me, which means that whether or not souls can leave Kalgrun will also be decided by me. We do not need to compromise with Azura; if her solution is one that ultimately displeases us then we create our own, or put a stop to crystallization in Kalgrun altogether.

”I will not resort to tricks or betrayals,” Roog said as he stared defiantly at Azura, showing no sign that Kalmar had shared thoughts with him, ”So I will not enter into a pact that I cannot know I will always support. Unless you offer a compromise that addresses my own position, I will not assist.”

”It is somewhat difficult to compromise on a matter that has yet to be decided upon.” Azura said while spinning plans for the unarmed Alma out of verse ”Is it not better to be part of the discussion, or at least stay informed as to how it is going, than reject the topic entirely?”

As she was talking Cerule leaned over and poked a finger into the half formed blueprint. Azura responded with a flat look before shooing her off and continuing her craft.

”This is not a discussion,” Roog pointed out, his bronze eyes leaping over to match Azura’s gaze, ”The compromise is producing another form of life that maintains and propagates your goals. If you would provide some sort of compromise towards our own goals, that being the continuation of the cycle, I would be far more amenable to assist.

”Okay but this one is worse because it can't shoot lasers. And have meddling from the huntsman over here. If that’s not up to snuff then what is?” Cerule asked.

”Restrict all soul crystallization to sapient organisms while leaving all other organisms within the cycle for the time being. This is what I would need to be assured that both sides of the compromise are being forwarded. Then I would assist.”

We won’t be doing that. spoke the great whale in response. Luis been primarily orchestrating the reconquest of the vault as the meeting took place but on this topic he could not remain silent.

Azura nodded ”That line has already been drawn in a place I’ve made peace with. To deny salvation after it has been offered would be to breach promises already made. Being made a liar seems like a poor way to start this collaboration.”

”Nothing personal Roogi boy, Luis’s friendship is just worth more to her than your divine power.” Cerule added bluntly.

”Disappointing,” Rppg replied, giving particular attention to Luis, ”One day I hope you see the folly of your terror; you would have lived happier for it. If you will not provide me compromise, I shall take it into my own hands. I shall assist and the creatures over Kalgrun will be EQUALLY mine as they are my creator’s.”

”Do you agree to this, Azura?” Kalmar asked.

”Can you agree to not to instantly enforce your tightened limits upon gaining that power? Let the ‘beasts’ of the continent decide for themselves.” she asked Roog

”Let them all decide for themselves.” she said more generally to the assembled guests.

”I have no intention of violating any creature’s free will,” Kalmar told her. He turned to Arae. ”What do you think of this?” he asked her.

If the cycle of life and death is maintained, and mortals are not in danger of extinction, then it will have to do,” Arae said after a moment of thinking. “Finer details may have to be worked out as time passes, especially when Katharsos is added to this discussion, but for now I approve.

Kalmar nodded. ”Then let’s get to work.”

Chopstick finished her curry.

”Agreed.” Azura said, pushing the glowing blueprint to the center of the table, where it formed the rough outline of an avian woven with Verse and suspended in a translucent sphere of power. A mold into which power could be poured. The goddesses of wind both stretched out a hand to touch the orb which thrummed with energy at the contact.

Kalmar reached out to press his palm against the orb as well, with Arae following suit.

Roog watched as the pair performed their portions of the ritual, eyes flashing with considerable interest. Unable to stretch out a hand as they had Roog closed the distance with the orb and pressed his nose to the silvery sphere instead.

”Let this work mark the beginning of our pact, wrote in contract, sealed with divine power.” Azura said symbolically as the creation formed at their touch.

”And witnessed by the void. May it bless this peace and curse those who break it.” spoke the stone cat, forgotten by all, with words that had a weight all their own.







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Commodore Condor

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He had forgotten what his human form had looked like. It had been so long, and now the reflection looking back at him was almost unknown in that small little pond. His family seemed to be the only one that truly recognized him. His face was older, but did not depict his true age. His skin was sunkissed, a light olive color. His stature was built, and his muscles were large from years of work. His short cropped hair was black with fine silver in it, the same could be said for his short beard. Two blue eyes looked back up at him, before he cupped his hands and broke the water’s surface. He splashed himself, the water cool, then got up and turned to Ohannakeloi, before looking up. The two of them stood before a massive tree, deep within the heart of the Eye, grown upon the largest island. All around them, the world was abuzz with life, the same as it had been upon the first day he discovered it.

Orvus had brought Ohannakeloi at his request when the crab had insisted upon seeing it. Orvus obliged after spending a majority of the day learning the names of Nebulites, watching them mingle, answering questions as creator gods did. They were a humble lot before the two, but Orvus could tell from their thoughts that there was more to them. Arya and Laurien were getting along them all as well, and he could tell, they were highly regarded. A few Nebulites had decided to change forms, or at least attempted too. The process was a difficult undertaking it seemed, but with his help, those that wanted human forms had them. They would have to teach themselves and practice to turn back. He was surprised to find that the Nebulites human forms were a cut above from what he remembered the dream humans being. Their features were enhanced to say the least, beautiful even. He caught Laurien staring at several as the day went on.

And as the day went on, several concerns grew in his mind. They had created many Nebulites, and even though Ohannakeloi was going to take around a thousand, that still left him with his own, several thousand. How was he going to feed, cloth, and house all of them? Had he been too rash in his decision to create them? It was because of this that Orvus had agreed readily when Ohannakeloi asked of the tree. They needed another private conversation.

He turned back to Ohannakeloi and cleared his throat. ”Phystene…” he cringed at the memories that name brought back, ”Our sister created this monument, as far as I can tell. As you probably noticed on our walk, the land began to grow more wildly and lush with life. It acts as a fertility aura and, though I haven’t tested it yet, I believe the sap has the same properties. It could be invaluable for starting mortal colonies, or even civilizations. To be a bit blunt, I’ll probably have some Nebulites come here when they decide to procreate.” he said, rubbing the back of his head. ”There’s some other things we should probably talk about too, before you leave.”

Ohannakeloi formed a set of large containers for said sap, several vases made out of a faintly translucent quartz, and a small apparatus for channeling the sap into the containers. He talked as he worked. “I have meant to talk to Phystene for some time, I think we could do some great things together, perhaps if I had more time for such projects it would bear more fruit. Tell me brother, of what do you wish to speak?”

Orvus nodded. "Let me start by saying I do not fear for our people that go with you. I know that they will be well provided for, it's simply those that remain. I have much here for them to grow and learn, but first I must teach them how to do this for themselves. I am fortunate to live in a place where warmer temperatures remain all year, but they will eventually need to build their own houses for shelter and privacy. They will have to learn to hunt or farm to eat and how to make their own clothing and items. I can only provide so much for now. For they must become independent of my help if they are to succeed in this world. So I must ask more of you, is there anything you can provide to help, in your wisdom, brother?" Orvus asked.

“I think there is something I could create, I do need to plan it out some to make sure.” With that the crab began forming a small something out of stone, what exactly it was going to be hard to tell given how rapidly it changed shape. It was small enough to fit in one claw of his and so he picked it up and continued speaking. “Tell me brother, since you have clearly thought on this issue yourself, what worries do you have most for the future in this regard?”

Orvus thought upon this for a moment before saying, "Food and shelter are at the most pressing. I have enough to last for a few days and then there would be a shortage. Then they have no place for shelter, either." he then thought a moment more and said, "I might have a solution for the food shortage, now that I think about."

“Then I believe I may have a solution to the lack of shelter, for a long enough while to solve the deeper issues there.”

The small stone portion now formed into something more recognizable, a model of sorts, generally star shaped although there was no sense of scale at such a design. At the top there were a large segment covering the entirety of the structure, it appeared to be fairly solid stone, next were three distinct levels of entrances that seemed to be for a dwelling given the general context of the conversation. Underneath was another section of the main structure that appeared to be another block of stone, they didn’t have much on the outside to signify difference, although the top block did have some openings and small structures. Below that bottom were some further pieces and bits of stone although their purpose wasn’t quite clear.

“A very basic model all things considered although I believe it will do well enough for them to get properly in accord. Will have to be some strong stone for a decent amount of the structure but I think that will be easy enough to handle.” Ohannakeloi handed the odd stone model off to Orvus, “You’ll see that this will work for long enough.”

Orvus took it gingerly, looking it over with a perceptive eye. He began to nod his head, ”Anything will do brother. This looks like it will do. I think we will find these Nebulite to be a very thankful people, when our gifts are given. Come, unless you wish to study the tree some more, I can hardly wait to get back with my mind at ease.” Orvus said, looking back to Ohannakeloi.

“Well, I suppose these vases seem full enough.” Ohannakeloi lifted them away, ceasing apparatus and sealing them each with more stone. “It is rather awkward to carry them all, would you mind assisting me in bringing them back?”

”Of course.” Orvus said, taking two vases for himself. The two gods then made their way back to Orvus’ island.




When they arrived, the Nebulites were still mingling with one another. Rowan was conversing with a group of females, Arya was showing Wreanun and her armor off to a group of Nebulites, Laurien had a group of men following her around as she walked around and the twins were busy being coddled by another group of women. All in all, things were looking good. Orvus set his vases down beside Ohannakeloi and then shouted in a very loud voice, ”Nebulites! Hear me!” and there was a sudden silence of anticipation as all eyes fell upon the duo of gods. Like before, the minute they saw Ohannakeloi, tears began to flow at his awe.

”Listen well my children. Long did Ohannakeloi and I talk, and talk about many things we did. And with that talk, we have decided upon many things for the future. Thusly, I will bestow upon you all, three gifts.” Orvus then clapped his hands, and a force of reverberation flung out to hit all Nebulites with new understanding. ”I have passed onto you, two things. Firstly, the knowledge of farming that I have cultivated here. With this, you will know how to produce your own food and gardens. Secondly, I have taught you the basics of wood crafting. With this, you have a foundation of something more. Use this knowledge to better yourself, and understanding of this world. And finally, a blessing.” Orvus said, clapping again, ”There are many of you here, and what food we have will not last long with so many mouths to feed. Thus, I have blessed you with the ability to go for long periods without food, a fasting of sorts. As a tradeback to this, during periods of fasting, your libido’s will lower significantly until your hunger is satiated. This is all that I have for you now.” Orvus finished. Amidst the crowd, there were looks of confusion, but for the most part, the people seemed content.

“I have one gift for the entirety of the Nebulite race and one for those of you who have decided to remain behind, so that even in my absence you will be assisted.” Ohannakeloi spoke out to the grand crowd, with a wave, vase and claw, new knowledge came into their minds. “That which is needed to work and construct of stone is now known to you, it may not be easy, but it is effective and well worth it in quality.”

Ohannakeloi spoke quieter to Orvus, “You should keep all those that remain a great distance away from the take off site of Ihomakwoi, need the room to properly house them all. Come we’ll put the vases away and then I should be off, I have several more continents to see still.”

Orvus nodded. ”Now is the time that Ohannakeloi and his number shall depart from this land. You know you are, say your goodbyes now, for you may never again see one another. When that is done, all those that shall remain, move away from the Ihomakwoi and get to the tree line. You will have your answer as to why, when the great Oahannakeloi sets off.” Orvus commanded, and so it was. Those that remained said goodbye to those that would stay behind. There were many heartfelt goodbyes, which surprised Orvus, since they hardly knew each other. But perhaps they shared a bond that went deeper then what the eye could see. When they arrived before the Ihomakwoi, Orvus handed off his vases to two Nebulites who waited behind Ohannakeloi.

”This is it then, my brother. May your travels be fruitful, and may our people prosper under your watch. Thank you, again, for everything and do not forget the favor that I owe you in return.” Orvus said, giving a slight, but awkward bow.

“It shall not be forgotten, I shall look forward to our next meeting, whenever that may come to be.” Ohannakeloi raised his claws in respect before turning to head to the Ihomakwoi with Nebulite companions.

There could not have been more than a thousand going with him, leaving the great crowd of Nebulites and crossing over the distance to the stone keep that had planted itself into the ground a great ways away. The two Nebulites carrying the stone vases had to hand off the weighty containers after a good while of travel, Ohannakeloi hadn’t exactly set down his keep closeby. Upon arriving it was easy enough to show the masses the kitchens, the quarters, and the storage for those vases.

The Buajaoi raised the keep Ihomakwoi up from the stone basin that had been formed below it, growing to a height several times that of the keep itself into the sky before stopping. The basin filled in with stone, and soon it spread across the ground, what was soil began hard, strong stone. Before long a massive star had formed, each point several times the original diameter of the basin away from that originating point. Almost as soon as the stone had formed that star and stopped the transformation of the soil to stone, it began to rise building upon itself skyward.

The model had almost been exactly accurate, near the points of the star’s arms the structure opened on three levels, the sides of the star had formed some ramps that would allow whatever the Nebulites could not fly to be brought onto the upper levels. Although the first entrance was on the ground level the next was more than twice the height of a Nebulite above the ground level. Although not immediately apparent there existed the underground level to this whole structure, rooms filled space for storage and ramps to the center of the structure beneath the surface to accommodate transport of materials.

Each arm of the star was filled, three levels of rooms for habitation, an underground section for storage and a final layer on top filled with tanks for the collection of rainwater and the sluices for its uses and ventilation shafts so that the hot climate was not too unbearable. The ventilation shafts for each of the three levels came down to a chamber with a fire pit directly opposite of the long main hall down from each point of the star. The sluices would open up paths for the water to other secondary storage tanks that directly connected to washing areas. These areas themselves connected to disposal shoots that reached far down beyond the storage levels into the deep earth, on the model they went nowhere but here they reached into a deep space for the disposal of waste.

At the center the five arms came together, the main halls reached their fire pits and beyond the pits was a central chamber that connected all the arms and levels. This was the only area the stone above was of a nearly transparent gemstone, the walls were imparted with more gems that reflected the light much better than other stones. Overall this meant despite being a most central chamber of the structure it would always have good lighting. Additionally the ramps to the storage sections came up here in the central chamber.

Although most of this was hidden from the Nebulites, and indeed it would not become apparent until it rained the purposes of the sluices in exact function, Orvus was well informed on the capabilities through the original model. One thing was not on the model was very apparent however. The outside was not bleak as the model had been, instead it was formed with an outer layer of marble, inlaid with other gems and stones to create designs although the color remained mostly that of the marble, an off white. The designs were many and intricate, to scale Ihokhetlani, Servants, Nebulites, Ahomauoi, Iuoloai, animals big and small.

A voice came to Orvus, “It is a shame that the water tanks will not fill till you get a good rain, but I do not think you shall have to wait long, farewell good Orvus.” The flying keep Ihomakwoi finally began to depart from its position above, the shelter was evidently completed.

Orvus looked upon the new keep with awe, before looking upon the floating keep with a look of thanks in his eyes. The massive structure before them would do well for his people, and for those who did not want to live within it, housed would be built around it, forming a community. He then spoke aloud for all to hear, ”Ohannakeloi gives you a final gift, shelter. It shall be named, the Marble Star, home to all Nebulites.”

As murmurs and talk began to rise within the ranks of the Nebulites, Arya arrived next to Orvus. Her armor was gone, replaced by a simple white dress, and so too was Wreanon. ”That was… Impressive, father. Ohannakeloi, he’s a kind one.” she said mesmerized.

Orvus looked upon her and said, ”Indeed, Arya. Now come, let us talk you and I. There are some things I think you could teach your people about.” he said with a soft smile.








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