Hidden 24 days ago 24 days ago Post by Strange Rodent
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Strange Rodent Rodent of Unusual Size

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Zisqe's Uncertainty With How Things Will Proceed
and Consequently
Where They Will Go


The air was waterlogged and pungent, like a corpse washed up on shore. Undergrowth creeped upwards ‘till it became overgrowth. Sunlight wormed its way through the foliage in places, then cut through the thickness of the air, providing a most welcome break.

At a stream Zisqe sat. They opened mouths on their hands, and dipped them in the water to drink. A basket of woven twigs lay next to them and a sharpened stick dug into the sand just beside that. They sighed.

The cove was nearly a days walk away, two if they stopped for sleep. Gathering was a job that did require longer trips. Especially if one had to gather stories as well. It seemed this trip would be fruitless for that, though.

They drew their hands out of the stream, and leaned back onto their haunches, looking to the other bank.

It lay there, as it was.

Zisqe snatched the spear and basket, one in each hand. Less than a second later it was behind a bush. Watching. Ready. Their vision pooled for a second. Dilated. Then focused, like a tunnel.

I mustn’t unfocus.

It was still there, as it was. Zisqe tightened their grip on the spear. Little help it would be. They looked at it to try find comfort, and it morphed before their eyes. It became a barbed, wicked thing, dripping a muddy liquid.

And it was looking upon an unmoving scene. A great, tentacled beast was impaled upon a spear held by Zisqe’s god. There was a man wearing black and holding a club, and a snake-looking thing. There was a great wooden thing on a colossal stream, a crater, and a mountain that twisted upwards. The same muddy liquid from before was spurting from the great beast.

”When atrocities are committed, colours revealed, and there is a certainty for a lack of change, our solutions are few. When other solutions are but food, what is a battle?”

Zisqe came to. Words echoed in their head.
It, as it was, was gone.

Zisqe shook their head, turned towards the town, and began walking.

---


This one looked upon Zisqe’s sleeping body. It was beautiful, exactly as it had intended. The small eddies of sun washed against chitin and ran off, bathing the ground around it in a golden light.

This One was sorry for Zisqe, in that this day long trip had been for nothing. It decided that it would give them a good story.

---


The sun was setting, and light was nearly a forgotten concept in the jungle. Zisqe had been walking since noon, and decided it was about time to sleep for the night. It looked around for a comfortable spot, free of roots and large rocks.

The roots only seemed to get thicker the further it walked, though. Thicker, and stranger. They grew in spirals around the base of the trees, pointing towards other trees as they fanned out. Between trees, roots twirled around one another, joining into one.

Before long, the ground was nothing but a twisting mess of roots trying to pierce through their brethren to reach soil below. And it was here that the stones were.

They were arrayed in a spiral running opposite to the roots, becoming taller the closer they got to the center. Zisqe bore the sight of this in awe. It traced the edge of the spiral with slow, deliberate, caressing steps. Each took it closer to the center, but it was not paying attention to this, instead to the majesty of the center stone.

It had carvings in it that seemed to live and breathe. They churned among themselves in all but one area. One strip, all the way around the stone. It was blank.

Upon approaching this stone, it shifted to look at Zisqe. The weight of the gaze hit them with the force of a strong wave. They remained standing, but a second wave came, this time more forceful. They fell to their knees. A third wave. To their face.

“To find the one you lost, you must come to us. We are a mighty legion of armoured siblings. We do not fear weapons, no matter how great or small, but water ruins us. We are effortlessly strong, yet push nothing. To reach us, you must first pass through our footsoldiers.”



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Hidden 24 days ago Post by BBeast
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BBeast Scientific

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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice




It was a beach of dark black sand, on a tropical island on the rim of the Eye of Desolation. There was the normal sea life, including dolphins and iridescent schools of fish and coral reefs, but there were also three iron carrionfish prowling the waters near the beach. Lone iron carrionfish were rare enough, but to have a group in one place could only mean one of two things. And these fish were not here to mate.

“What have you found?” asked a voice like a rising tide.

The metallic sharks turned their noses towards the shore. The sea then rose, crawling up the black sand like the tides. Then, as the water washed over one patch of sand which appeared the same as all the others, it stopped and quivered. A couple of squalls peeled off from the water and flitted away. The water gathered up before the spot and rose into the form of a woman. “What happened here?” shuddered a voice like a falling glacier.

She had tasted ichor, belonging to none other than Orvus, soaked into the sand. The remains were no longer visible, but the spilt divine essence was still strong. Proportional to Orvus’ size, it seemed to be a lot of ichor, implying a grievous wound. Ashalla’s head twisted up towards the heavens. “Orvus, where are you?” she called into the aether, but received no response.

Ashalla soaked through the sand to try to find more clues. She detected the divine essence of Katharsos, as distinctive as it was, but that scent appeared very stale, so it seemed improbable that Katharsos’ presence and Orvus’ wounding were coincident. Yet, search as she did, she could find no trace of any other divine essence. Perhaps Katharsos had done this to Orvus, and his essence had faded faster than she expected. Or perhaps some other god had done it and managed to conceal their own essence.

Ashalla lifted her head and looked inland. There were mortals on these islands, made in the image of Orvus. Perhaps they held more clues. Ashalla receded back into the sea and swam around the island in search of mortals. Eventually she found a small family of three nebulites enjoying a shallow beach. The mother held her small baby between her legs, letting the warm water run over her, to various giggles. Ashalla’s watery form rose out of the sea, her imposing gaze looking down upon the Nebulites. “Mortals, tell me: where is your god Orvus?”

Instinctively, the female nebulite of pink and purple swirls, her hair the same color but glowing softly, grabbed her baby and scooped her up into her arms protectively as she looked up in awe at Ashalla. The male, a nebulite of gray with blotches of white stars, went to stand beside his mate from where he had been sitting. The baby began to cry at the sudden commotion and the woman began to coo to it. The male then stepped forward and said, "Orvus is… Gone... your Magnificence." He said slowly, in a sense of awe.

“Do you know what has happened to him or where he went?” Ashalla interrogated.

The male began to speak but the female interrupted, "Your holiness, we do not know where my father went or what happened to him. Many think he… Abandoned us. Laurien said he told her he was needed somewhere and so he left. That was… Ten years ago." Her voice was soft, unsure of itself, and a hint of sadness sounded.

There was a long, low rumble from Ashalla. This story was not adding up. Eventually, she said, “So Laurien claims to have spoken with Orvus before he… left. Where is Laurien?”

The two Nebulites shared looks with each other as the woman rocked the baby. The woman then looked up at Ashalla and said, "Why, she left not long after. She went to protect those that his Holiness Shengshi took. I am not sure where she is now, your Magnificence."

Ashalla rumbled again, then asked, “Is there anyone else who might know more?”

The woman shook her head. “No one here… Though, it might not hurt to ask my sister, Arya.” she said.

“And where is Arya?”

“Most likely at her house, your Holiness. Would you like us to guide you there?” the woman asked.

There was a brief rumble. “Yes.”

The woman smiled, and grabbed the hand of her mate. “Please follow us.”

They led Ashalla through a very worn path, passing other Nebulites as they did, who all stopped and stared upon Ashalla’s watery form, some even bowing. The path took them through the jungle which teemed with life, and before long the Marble Star rose into view. They entered into a very large expanse of farmland, makeshift houses, and bustling society of a fledgling nation. Like before, every single Nebulite stopped and stared upon seeing Ashalla. Before long they came before a cozy looking house of mahogany, far more intricate than the others, but slowly beginning to see wear.

The woman gave her baby to her mate, and then ran up the porch steps and knocked on the door. There was a long silence before the door opened to reveal a Nebulite of inverse colors. She wore a simple, white dress and she looked very tired.

“Ava? What’s wron-” Arya began, before her gaze fell upon the form of Ashalla. Ava giggled and moved out of the way, letting Arya out. She made her way slowly to the top of her stairs before she kowtowed and said, “Holiness Ashalla! Welcome to the Eye.”

Ashalla’s gaze scrutinised Arya for a few moments. “The last of the Zhengwu…” she muttered. A tendril of water snaked up next to Arya and licked the spiral on the back of her hand. She rumbled for a moment, then said in a voice like a river, “I seek Orvus. And I also seek Laurien, who should know more about where Orvus is.”

Arya seemed to stiffen. Whether at the mention of Zhengwu, the tendril of water, or her family, it was hard to say. She looked up at Ashall and blinked. “I… Have no idea where either of them are, I’m afraid. They both abandoned us, and neither even said goodbye.” she said with emotion in her voice.

Ashalla huffed, and started to turn away. “Unfortunate. I will have to seek them out myself.”

“Your Holiness, why are you searching for them?” Arya asked, her eyebrow raised.

Ashalla stopped and her head twisted back to look down upon Arya. After a pause, Ashalla answered, “It is not for you to know.”

Arya took a step forward. “What? Why can’t I know? Even if… Even if they did leave… I believe I have a right to know why her Holiness Ashalla is asking for them,” she said, her voice wavering between calm and desire.

Ashalla answered with a voice like sneering frost, “A right? You have no rights other than those us gods deign to give you. This is not a matter for mortals.”

“But… But they’re my family… Please. Please your Holiness!” Arya pleaded, taking another step down the porch.

Ashalla continued to stare down the nebulite, a low rumble coming from her. “You knew K’nell?” she eventually asked.

Arya paused. ”Yes… I was his Ward.” she said softly.

“Do you know where K’nell and his continent are?”

”I do… But I can’t… I shouldn’t tell you…” Arya said defeated.

Ashalla rumbled softly, then said in a voice like a trickling brook. “I was good friends with K’nell. I was disappointed when he left without telling me where he went.” Ashalla paused to let her words sink in. “I propose an exchange. If you tell me what happened with K’nell, I will tell you what I know of what happened to Orvus.”

Arya looked upon Ashalla in contemplation. After a moment, her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Come inside,” Arya said sadly, walking back up the porch steps. Ashalla dwarfed the house, but she flowed up to the door anyway, and some of her water poured through the doorway as a large pseudopod. The end of the pseudopod sculpted itself into a humanoid form.

Arya led the way through the rather barren house. There was some furniture here and there and hanging along the walls were several artifacts. A large sword of orvium, a spectral dagger, a tattered cloak of stars, a small flute, and a small bell of starlight. A pseudopod stretched from Ashalla to lick each of the artifacts. Eventually they arrived in a kitchen of sorts, with only a table and some counters. Arya sat down across from an empty chair, and beckoned for Ashalla to sit. Ashalla flowed onto the seat, then looked at Arya expectantly.

She sighed and leaned back into the chair. “As you know… Tendlepog, and K’nell are gone. With them also went most of the Dreamers, but some remained… I don’t know where they are, either…” she chuckled sadly before taking a deep breath. “My mothers went with… You might have met them, Hermes and Xiaoli? It’s what they wanted, I guess, but they never told me. After all, He didn’t want anyone to know… Not yet… Maybe not ever. Only my loved ones… That was it and yet… It’s such a burden,” she said, her eyes watering. ”But I’m getting off topic, aren’t I? You see… Your Holiness… K’nell combined Tendlepog and his Sphere to create an alternative to the pyres. He called it an eternal paradise. Heaven. None of them are coming back,” she whispered.

“So that’s what happened. He didn’t want some dreams to end…” A melodious laugh issued from Ashalla with an undertone of burbling. “While Azura has been working tirelessly and enlisting the help of other gods to find a way to save the dead, K’nell achieved it single-handedly! My congratulations to him for taking charge of the natural order. Although, what role does the green mark in the sky have in this?”

Arya expression turned to slight surprise at Ashalla’s laughter. After a moment of blinking the girl said, “It’s called the Moksha and is far more specific to the Dreamers who remained, than to any of us. One need only to dream into it, to know it’s true purpose.”

Ashalla huffed. Then she said with a voice like rolling waves, “You have fulfilled your part of the bargain. Now it is time to fulfil mine.” Ashalla receded from the chair and flowed back towards the door. “Follow.”

As Ashalla withdrew from the house the rest of her form turned to cloud, puffing up and swallowing the village before rising above the ground. Ashalla then flew away from the settlement. Arya followed quickly, flying into the dark cloud. Her small voice then said, “Your Holiness, please, you cannot tell anyone about what K’nell did. If not for me, then for him.”

“You wish for me to keep secret a major shift in the structure of Galbar, the fate of a god, and an alternative to the Pyres - an enigma which is occupying the time and resources of several gods?” Ashalla asked incredulously.

Arya frowned, visibly. "I… It does sound selfish doesn't it… I was unaware that others were working on a solution but… I don't think they can unlock Heaven for everyone. Not unless someone tells them how to get there," she said.

The clouds around her rumbled. “Why do you not tell them?”

"K'nell did not think they would understand why he did what he did. I don't really know what to think anymore," Arya said again, her voice conflicted.

There was a further rumble. “There is some wisdom in K’nell’s caution. I shall exercise discretion in the matter.”

"Thank you, your Holiness."

The clouds then parted, and a beach of black sand stretched out below them. “Here is the place.”

Arya landed amid the cool sand and looked around before looking at Ashalla in confusion. "What am I looking at, your Holiness?" she asked.

The clouds spoke, “You cannot see it with your mortal senses. But Orvus’ blood soaks deep into these sands, crying out in silent anguish. He was gravely wounded here, yet I know not who did it, or where he is now.”

Arya was silent for a long time, her eyes wide as she stared at the beach. "He… He… didn't abandon us…" she said falling to her knees. "I don't understand who, or even why something like this would happen, your Holiness."

“Laurien was the one who had informed you of Orvus’ departure, or so I’ve been told. She may have witnessed something, so she might hold the answer,” Ashalla said.

"I don't know where she is… But his Lordship will," Arya said, blinking away tears.

“So I’ve been told,” Ashalla said.

The clouds above changed from dark shadows to a melancholy grey, and Arya felt the presence of the goddess leave the place. As the rain closed in around Arya, she whispered, "Thank you… For telling me," before her black tears joined the rain.


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Hidden 24 days ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Following Ten Years


“Next!”

Hectore’s voice thundered throughout the dark throne room. The endless line of complaint-carrying citizens of Asteria barely shortened as the next individual stepped up to the throne. Polyastera let out a quiet snore and Philia timidly poked her back to life. The queen quickened to and blinked, then fixed a glare on the approaching woman. She had completely lost count of how many she had heard today. This whole complaint line idea had been Pallason’s idea - given that the number of people unsatisfied with the utter lack of luxuries had increased dramatically over the past several months.

“I am queen Polyastera, queen of the blah-blah-blah, you’ve heard it a million times already. What do you want?”

Woman frowned back and bowed. “Well, Polly, it’s--”

“-My queen-!”

“Well, -my queen-,” the woman corrected sourly, “I’ve come to ask about the new beds you promised to distribute, and--”

“Yes, well, it’s not quite in the budget - sorry!”

The woman didn’t even look surprised. She hung her head and nodded. “As expected.” She stood up and spat on the floor. “You should have never been cr--UGH!”

The woman dropped lifelessly to the floor. Behind her, a guard hung his blackjaw from his belt and, together with a colleague, lifted the woman up and took her away. Those behind her didn’t even seem to care, and many shook their heads at the woman’s stupidity. Hectore sighed and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I will repeat - to insult the queen is to insult the people. Speak up against our queen Polyastera and your corpse will fuel the Twillight Forge. Next!”

The lines continued not to shrink, surly, exhausted Nebulites soullessly bringing their queries before the queen for another few hours. It was unlikely that any of them truly cared for what they were complaining about - every day went to work in the shoddy fields or on the River God’s temple - any outlet for their anger and frustration was warmly welcome.

Polyastera put a hand on her protruding belly and sucked in a furious breath. She had sent the last one to the Forge simply out of spite. In the beginning, there had been a certain rush in it - a joy even: the thrill of power of another’s life. The feeling had grown stale much too quickly, though - even as her cronies and followers had been armed with divine weaponry to enslave the rest of their population; in fact, such power over the majority had dulled the feeling further.

However, while sadistic joys grew stale, the harvests and hunts brought in tons of food even in their disorganised states, and Polyastera and her friends ate like the royalty they were - and as the pregnancy caused her body to store more fat, her opulent lifestyle started showing.

She pushed herself out of her throne and went to her chambers. There, Hectore was already waiting for her at the window overlooking the tiers below. He gave a groan and turned to Polyastera.

“Eight. That’s how many rose up against you today.”

“And now they’re gone,” Polly soothed and pecked him on the mouth. “You did well, my love. How did the fishing trip go?”

Hectore pursed his lips. “Well, the good news is--”

“There are bad news?”

“A few.”

“Well, what are they?”

“There have been delays again with the stone for the construction, but that wasn’t really relevant to the fishing question.”

Polyastera grit her teeth and stalked over to a bowl-like stone in which her cronies had managed to reproduce something that gave a faint sensation like wine-induced drunkenness. The taste was appalling, but at least there came a buzz after a number of cups. As her widening hips showed, Polyastera had been drinking buckets of late.

“Always, always - ALWAYS! They know -DAMN- well we cannot start construction without the stone and yet they have the audacity to delay…” She chugged the sorry excuse for wine and stormed over to the window. “Get Laurien - I want her and a hundred more to show those disgustingly lazy stonemongerers that when Polyastera wants her stone, she will get her stone.”

Hectore sighed. “You know we can’t kill them all. There’d be no one left to--”

“We won’t kill them, Hectore - we’ll just show them that we’ll do whatever it takes to finish that stupid temple!” She gasped for breath and held a hand on her chest. “Sorry… Just… Go find Laurien, please.”

Hectore nodded slowly. “Yes, my queen.” Then he walked off.




Laurien sat outside in the shade of her balcony. It overlooked the lower tiers, and the hustle of daily life for the Nebulites. It did not sit so high as the palace and in fact, was on the other side of the tier. Far removed from Polly's failures, and just how she liked it. Her own home, with a garden in bloom and even a small pool. Surrounding her on the balcony was her, and littered about her home in various states, were her own personal lovers and servants. Cassie was chief among them, the flame girl was simply infatuated with her and Laurien would not have it any other way.

There were various others who had proven their loyalty for her, even before the Queen but that was their little secret.

She let out a pleasant sigh and leaned back as the hot air hit her scantily clad body. "Inaris, bring me more of that juice they call wine, please." she cooed softly to the shimmering green Nebulite. He wasn't the sharpest tool but he did have his uses.

"Right away Laurien." He said nodding. Laurien watched him go, a smirk on her face as she turned to Cassie, who was making out with a tan colored Nebulite she did not know. She cleared her throat and Cassie reluctantly pulled herself away from her companion.

"Yes Laurien?"

"What are the doves singing this morning?" she smiled knowingly.

"Many things my Lady. Unrest is growing, the luxuries offered are not being given, more people are being sacrificed and the stone for the temple is delayed. There's not much else sung this day." Cassie said with a giggle.

Inaris then returned and gave Laurien a large cup. "Thank you Inaris." she said before taking a sip. The news wasn't a large surprise, there were far too many promises to keep after all and it would be her job to fix them. It was always her job. And if she wanted to protect her livelihood, then she would have to do it.

Another Nebulite streaked through the door, wearing nothing but his deep purple skin. "My lady, Hectore is here."

Laurien sighed, of course he was.

The well-groomed hunter seemed to reluctantly enter Laurien’s sanctum. It was evident that he was on a mission from the queen and would have otherwise never set foot here, judging from the way he distanced himself coldly from those around him. Still, he greeted Laurien with a half-bow and said, “Lady Laurien, good day. Her Majesty requests your aid once more.”

Laurien put on her best smile for Hectore and nodded. "And I will gladly answer." she said, rising. She outstretched her hand and Aaldir came, weaving between the Nebulites and surprising a few. "What might be the problem, Queen's Hunter?" she asked.

The hunter sighed. “That would be the quarry workers again. There have been another set of delays. Her Majesty beseeches you to take a section of the guard and see to it that the stoneworkers will not suffer such unfortunate holdbacks again.”

She nodded. "Anything for our Queen. I will go at once." she said, her armor appearing. She turned to Cassie, "See to it that a bath is ready for my return."

Cassie nodded, "Of course my lady."

"Thank you, darling." she then turned to Hectore, her helmet covering her face in an instant. "Shall we?"

“So we shall, my Lady. Please, come with me.” The hunter took off and together with Laurien, they flew down towards the lower tiers.

The city hadn’t even existed for a year and already the lower tiers had accumulated a foul, slum-like stink. The bulk of the Nebulites had been thrown down here, oppressed and kept down by the superior weaponry of the royal guards. The twilight-forged blades and spears of the guards quelled any meagre attempt at rebellion, and of all the professions in the city save for noble, Polyastera made certain to pay her guards the most.

A hundred had assembled before Hectore and Laurien. They were clothed in simple skins of the river crocodiles and armed with twilight-forged batons, white, black and sparkled with the blood of executed rebels. They greeted the two with a sounding “hail!” and awaited their orders. Hectore gave Laurien a nod and said, “We will move swiftly and bring quick justice. The construction of the temple cannot be delayed.”

”Death should be a secondary punishment. Only used at the last resort. We need those workers, and If anyone of you lapses in this, you will take the place of the deceased. Move out.” Laurien commanded.

The company took off into the air and soared as a swarm of bloodthirsty wasps towards the quarries upriver. It took barely an hour to get there, and by the time they arrived, it was evident that they had been spotted. The stoneworkers had lined up at the quarry entrance, anxious and nervous expressions across every face. Some tried to run, but were swiftly gathered up by the others for fear of the group being punished for the individual’s cowardice.

The company landed and the stonemaster, Eclipsion, came scuttling over rubbing his hands nervously.

“G-good day, Lady Laurien, Huntsmaster Hectore - wuh-what brings you here to our humble--”
“Silence, Eclipsion, you know why we’re here,” Hectore spat oppressively. The stonecarver faltered instantly.

“W-we… We tried. We really tried, Huntsmaster, but the stone, it’s--... It’s too heavy to move by hand! We, we need more workers!”

Hectore looked at the sorry excuses for blocks of stone that were already worn with damage from being rolled and pushed over rough rock and sanding sand. “Have you tried flying them back?”

“They are much too heavy, Huntsmaster!” Eclipsion insisted. Hectore snarled and looked at the river down the valley. He pointed to it.

“What’s that, Eclipsion?”

“That would be the river, Huntsmaster.”

“Yes. Have you tried using -that- as a means of transportation?”

“B-but… Rocks don’t float, Huntsmaste--”

“Of course, they don’t!” Hectore snapped and grabbed the stonecarver by the collar. “I know rocks don’t float, you imbecile! However, His Lordship’s boat floated on water, even with all of us on it. Try making something similar for the stones.” He released Eclipsion and the crafter gave an anxious, thoughtful hum.

“W-well… It may be possible, uhm… In a week, we could--”

“Three days,” Hectore demanded. The stonecarvers quivered. “Three days, and the stone will be waiting by the river at Laurienna.”

"I will see to it that a solution for the lack of workers is found. We cannot let this project tarry. His Lordship will return, and we must be ready for him. The people of Laurienna are counting on you. On all of you. Do not let them and our Queen down." Laurien said sternly, pacing back and forth.

“Oh! Oh, thank you, beautiful Lady Laurien! Thank you!” Eclipsion praised. Hectore nodded.

“We will camp here for the night. Tell us if you require any aid in your mission, my Lady,” Hectore said with a curt bow.

"I require your best scouts and any information on who else inhabits this land of ours." Laurien said proudly.

Hectore frowned in bewilderment at the suggestion, but nodded. “So be it, then. Helio, Urana, Cosmus, Nova, Satur - you heard the Lady. Fall in.” The five scouts lined up behind Laurien dutifully.

She led them a short distance away before turning around. The sun beat down on top of them, but beneath her helmet, she smiled wickedly. "So tell me, in your travels, have you ever run into something that walked on two legs, and wasn't a nebulite?"

All five of them shook their heads. The lady known as Urana said, “No, my Lady - only four-legged beasts and wildlife. That said, we haven’t dared fly too far into the desert.”

She frowned behind her helmet. Disappointing, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with. "It is paramount that you find another race, or any sign of intelligent life besides us. Fly up the river, fly down the river, fast until you find something that can be useful to me. When you do, I shall reward you personally. Now go, for the good of the Empire."

“Yes, my Lady,” the five of them echoed and soared into the sky.

Laurien watched them go. They would either find someone or they wouldn't. For the good of her wellbeing, she hoped they did. They had too.




The temple to Shengshi neared the halfway mark to its completion. Where it sat next to the royal palace, it already stood at its height, and would only continue to grow. The masons had begun to carve the sandstone with intricate patterns, images of stars and the gods, but chief among them, was his Lordship and his benevolence. Outside the temple, the pillars were being constructed in front of the opening. They had realized that no wooden door would ever fit, and thus, a long rock overhang stretched out before it, nearing completion. Inside the temple, there would be a great bust of his Lordship, hands outstretched. The walls would be decorated with pictures of rivers, and other running bodies of water. It would be the jewel of the empire, after all. It had to please.

They had five more years left to complete it, and for once, things were on schedule. With the renewed help that she had promised, production had continued with renewed haste. It had not been long after, that they had found them living like savages in the desert. The giants of flame, who she knew to be from a dark god, now called by the Nebulites, Dari. They were only beginning to understand their language, but the Dari quickly learned the meaning of a sword and the whip. It had not been easy, for they were giants and their children were nimble and quick. Slowly a strategy was born to capture them. Nebulite troops swarmed one of the giants, biting them with their spears until they yielded. The smaller ones, it was just a matter of coercion and threats, which were shared it seemed, through actions.

Soon after the first Dari slaves were brought into the Empire, a market popped up for trading and bartering of these slaves. Small as it was at first, Laurien did not realize how quickly it would grow. There was a demand for the smaller Dari, the ones more suited smaller, every work. They were not the servants, nor did they have any decorum or manners, but they would work, or be forced too. They had a temper in them at first, but after a time, and after the fire cooled in their blood at the threat of water, the Dari were beginning on the path to timidness.

Laurien did not relish what she had to do to ensure her people’s survival, but after a time she became numb to it, or so she thought. Aaldir began to whisper to her, making her want to cause pain. For Aaldir craved more, he craved [i]ichor[/] but the blood of the fallen would suffice. She could resist it, she knew that, but killing became far to easy. It became better when the soldiers learned how to suffice without her, but from time to time, Polyastera still gave her tasks to complete. But Polly was another matter entirely.

The Nebulite woman had grown bored of the Queen. Her once-slim figure had been ruined by stress, food and children - if you could call the little monsters that. Laurien had begun to avoid the queen at all costs, only seeing her in person if she demanded her presence. Even then, her status as a concubine meant she had to… Deal with it.
Concubine… No, she was so much more than that.

The pitter patter of small feet and giggles startled her from her fixation on the temple construction. She blinked and turned around to see her two small children playing. Andromeda was the oldest of the two, at four. A girl child of inky black skin, coated with white stars and light red swirls. Her hair started black, but faded to silver at the tips. Silver… She loved the color. Her father had been Satur, one of the scouts that found the Dari. He ventured out on a scouting trip a year ago now, but Laurien knew he would not return. Phoset, her two year old was a boy child of deep purple, almost black. He had no stars upon his small body. His hair was also the same, but glowed softly. Laurien did not know who his father was, not that it mattered anyways.

She loved her children, as any mother would, but they did not stop her from living her lavish style. She provided everything for them, so that they could live good lives, but she would not spoil them. She refused to have her children grow up with everything that they wanted at a beck and call. They would learn to take for themselves what they wanted, and earn it. For now, they could play to their heart's content. She smiled as she watched them, her thoughts flickering to her own sibling. She did wonder how Arya was doing, but knew her sister would be appalled by what she had done here. That was the simple and only, truth.

As Phoset began to hit Andromeda over a simple toy, Laurien watched to see what the girl would do. Would she strike back? There was a moment where her daughter grew frustrated, she could tell, and began to scream, before crying and running over to her. She wrapped her tiny little arms around her right leg and through tears cried, “Momma! Pho took my toy!”

Laurien grabbed Andromeda and placed her in her lap, the small girl snuggled up against her mom as she pouted. ”There there little dove, everything is going to be alright.”
“Nuh uh.” came the girls soft reply.

”Yes huh.” Laurien cooed. ”Pho will grow bored soon enough, just you watch. The only reason he wanted it, was because you had it. Now that he has it, he realizes he doesn’t want it at all.” and true to her word, Pho turned his attention to the pair and dropped the toy to run over to Laurien on unsteady feet. He yawned as he placed his hands upon his mother’s legs. With her free arm, Laurien scooped him up and settled him into the crook of her arm and chest.

”You see Andromeda, all we have to do is wait to get what we want.” Laurien said, waiting for an answer, but found none. She looked down to see Andromeda’s eyes fluttering, then over to Phoset, who had already shut his eyes. She found that her children gave her warmth when she needed it most, and it was nice to be wanted by the both of them. They needed her, after all.

”Patience.” Laurien hummed. ”All we need is patience.” she hummed again, watching the distant temple construction as she thought on the future.

Behind the growing temple, the palace stood bathing in the heliopolis. The peak of the pyramid-like construction was host to a vicious cacophony of children’s cries. Hectore’s racoon-ringed eyes looked emptily down at his stone plate of saltpears, sorghum bread and grilled fish. There came another squeal as Polyastera II, the eldest daughter, took a hard grip around the ponytail of her little brother, Omnipotens, and pulled as hard as she could. The little boy kicked and wailed, but the elder sister’s eyes burned with sadistic glee. Under the table, the second daughter, Polyastera III, sat playing with a spilled plate of food.

“... Children, stahp it,” Hectore mumbled to no avail. Omnipotus finally managed to pull himself lose and ran screaming towards the door. Polyastera II, needing something to vent her energy at, scooped a handful of saltpears and threw them after him. Hectore grit his teeth and pointed at the girl. “Young lady, a princess does -NOT- act like that!”

Polyastera II sat down and sneered. “Shut up, dad, if that’s what you are to me.”

Hectore felt a pump of fury course through his body. “What’s it going to take for you to behave, huh?”

“I want a jackalope,” the pink-haired girl said stubbornly.

“Sweety, you know we can’t get you a jacka--”

“I WANT A JACKALOPE! I WANT! I WANT! I WANT!”

The Huntsmaster was at a loss. He merely keeled forward as a new wave of spoiled rage filled the young girl and sent her into a tantrum. As she hammered away at stone plates and food, the doors swung open. There, queen Polyastera I stood in her translucent dress from five years ago - only that it was torn in several places around her legs, waist and chest. She had a slight stagger in her walk and her hair was a mess of knots. A general funk of sweat and alcohol permeated her aura. She made a considerable effort walking over to her seat by the dinner table, ignoring her crying son. Hectore swallowed.

“G-good evening, my queen,” he said as politely as he could. The queen ignored him, too. She sat herself down in her carven wooden chair. It creaked painfully. Soon, a number of servants came with her dinner - the portion twice the size of Hectore’s. She began to dig in.

“What’sh the news for today, Hectore?”

The Huntsmaster squeezed his arms sheepishly. “There was… Another revolt, my queen.”

“I shee,” Polyastera replied through a mouthful of bread. “Has it been dealt with?”

“As per normal procedure,” Hectore whispered dutifully.

“Hold on, dear, I can’t quite hear you-- POLLY, SHUT UP, YOU DISGUSTING BRAT!” Polyastera II shrunk down to a tenth of her size, all trace of her earlier anger vanished before a facade of fear and depression.

“S-sorry, moth--”

“Shut. Up. Now, what did you say, Hectore, my dear?”

The Huntsmaster shivered in much the same manner as the eldest daughter did. “It… It’s been dealt with, my queen.”

“Good, good. I can always rely on you, my love,” the queen replied emptily and stuffed another grotesque amount of food into her mouth. The Huntsmaster felt a gag and stood up. The queen’s eyes fell upon him with a raging fury boiling within. “Where are you going?”

“I, um… I was, uhm…”

“Staying here and having dinner with your queen?” Her eyes flickered like starquakes. Hectore knew he was trapped. He couldn’t just deny the queen her will. Those that did had an uncanny tendency to wind up dead shortly after, and Hectore quite enjoyed being alive despite what he had to endure.

So far, anyway.

The Huntsmaster sat back down and picked up a piece of bread. “Naturally, my queen.”




It was the dawn of the tenth year. The sands of the desert floated lazily on the wind. A week earlier, the final stone had been placed upon the temple roof, and the city had spent the following seven days in tense agony. However, it was finished at last, and the celebration rolled through the city like a crashing wave. The construction had accelerated towards the end thanks to two great fortunes: the increased use of river floats to move the stone from the quarries, as well as the discovery of a rival empire far to the west:

In the sixth year, the scouts of the empire had come upon a number of strange bipeds at the headwaters of the Natal, the new name given to Taipang. These bipeds spoke an odd language and were covered in hair and simple clothing. In truth, initial conclusions had written them off as primitive beasts. However, as they had been encountered more and more frequently, contact had been established. The lingual barrier was hard to breach, but a language spoken by all beings craving the finer things was found: gold.

The hairy bipeds had tons of it, using nuggets and pieces of it as currency. The Nebulites were never told where the strangers got it from, and frankly, the only thing on their mind was acquiring it. Initially, the Nebulites had offered works of stone, giant slaves and low-quality wine as payment for the gold. The strangers, however, were not interested. As they grew more familiar, observations made by the Nebulite emissaries concluded that the Talemonese already had slaves - so many that they needed no more. It was at that point that the queen, who had fallen head over heels for gold, offered an alternative, one that the strangers seemed to enjoy considerably more:

Concubines.

Special institutions were constructed in Laurienna where men and women were trained to be sold as husbands and wives to the queendom’s new trading partner - and the gold flowed into Asteria like the water of the Natal. A literal golden age began, in which Polyastera and her family were praised as bringers of prosperity. During the three years since connection was made with Talemon, the Nebulites were taught ceramics, and from there their ravenous research into the search for beauty led them to accidentally discover goldsmithing. Asterian trinkets and jewelry became a staple product of the civilisation.

However, as time passed, the Talemonese began to close off the stream of gold, instead offering slaves of their own. While this severely upset the nobles, it compensated for a very large problem with the giants. Unlike Nebulites and Pygmies, the giants still had to be captured and forced into slavery, and due to their slow reproduction, there was no hope of breeding enough of them before the ten year deadline was reached.

On the other hand, the Pygmy slaves were not only faster, more agile and much more disciplined, but they could also be bought in bulk. They were produced incredibly fast, so they outpaced any other type of reproduction.

Then came the ninth year. The temple was nearing its completion, but the gold that had once filled the whole city from gutter to palace had been hoarded by either the slaver lords or by the royal family. Initial reactions were those of rage at the lack of luxuries; following that came the slow collapse of business as gold that had become a bit of a standard for the barter economy grew scarcer and scarcer. Several institutions tried to return to the system of three years past where exotic animal carcasses and food were traded for goods, but none of these were in demand anymore. In addition to an overall fall in the supply of exotic animals on the grounds overhunting and overfishing, the hunger of gold drowned out any and all memory of skin and leather-based fine clothing.

Hippo skin tunics? Crocodile armour? That was what the poor wore, after all.

The Natal always provided food, so that was not the issue, necessarily. The issue was that a number of the leaders in the distribution services for food had grown corrupt, and always prioritised their friends and cronies in the royal family or the noble houses. The slaves, no matter whether they were Nebulite, Giant or Pygmy, were left at the bottom of the priority list. To keep their thoughts off mutiny and uprising, their shifts were doubled the final year. This hadn’t worked very well, and rebellions had popped up every now and then anyway. Nevertheless, the project was finished, and as Shengshi came over to inspect his temple, many of the slaves laid dying in the gutters below the temple from wounds or exhaustion. The river god noted the pitiful sight with furrowed brows as his ship landed in the Natal and he disembarked. At the riverbank, an unrecognisable version of the queen did her best to bow. Beside her stood a soulless Hectore, his eyes empty of all hope and joy, the myriad of princes and princesses, and Laurien. Behind them stood a great crowd, as well. The snake slithered up to the Nebulites with an annoyed flame in his eyes.

“Nebulites,” he hissed, “I have come at last to inspect the temple.” He faced a blinking frown down at Polyastera. “Queen Polyastera, I presume?”

“Indeed, Your Holiness,” said the queen and straightened herself back up, making the snake scowl a little. “We, your humble servants, have completed the second task that you asked of us.”

“Wonderful, well done,” the snake replied emptily and placed a much more amiable gaze on Laurien. “Laurien, my dear, how have you been, then?”

She smiled weakly and nodded, "I've been… Doing well, your Holiness."

The snake noted the tone. “That is very nice to hear. If you would like, we could perhaps have a cup of tea on my ship later? Talk about the past?”

"I… I'm afraid I have to decline, your Holiness. I promised my children I'd teach them how to fly… They can be very… Demanding when they want to be." she said with a warm smile.

“Yes, children have a tendency to be…” He glanced over at Polyastera. “Demanding… A shame that we will have to wait with that tea, though - truly is.” He clapped his hands together. “Very well, let me see this temple so you no longer will have to be afraid of my wrath.” The crowd parted as he slithered through, followed by the waddling queen and her little horde of children. Hectore remained staring longingly at the Jiangzhou resting on the river. He slowly turned to Laurien.

“Lady Laurien,” he mumbled hollowly.

She turned to look at Hectore and frowned slightly, "Yes Hectore?"

“... The queen was furious about your abstinence from the quelling of the slave uprisings last week… I… I’m not sure what she’s planning, but--”

“HECTORE!” came a scream from behind them. The Huntsmaster, once the proudest and strongest among the mortal Nebulites, winced and ducked at the noise. He turned to Laurien with empty eyes and whispered, “... I’m so sorry.” He then scuttled off after the queen.

Laurien watched him go, her thoughts abuzz with the news. Worry and panic overtook her. Andromeda and Phoset were home, along with the rest of her lovers and friends. Would Polly take advantage of her absence? Without saying a word, she spun around and took off.

The flight felt like the longest one she had ever taken, worry wracked her heart and drove her faster to get there. When she arrived upon her balcony, the first thing she noticed was the bodies. The sickly sweet aroma of Nebulite blood permeated the area as she landed in the white that coated the floor. Her servants, her concubines, even her slaves were strewn about. Their wounds were gracious and even after that, all their throats were slit.

She ran inside to find much the same, including Cassie, who had been completely mutilated. She only knew it was her, because of the uniqueness of her flame hair. Her favorite lover had been crucified along the central wall, and her arms and legs had been severed. She covered her mouth at the sight and then screamed out for Andromeda and Phoset.

There came no reply as she continued throughout her house, finding bodies everywhere. Some looked like they were fleeing, stabbed in the back and left to die. Her pool had two Nebulites face down, their blood making the water milky white. Her garden was ruined, set aflame and pulled apart. Her things were destroyed or missing and she could not find her children. She began to cry as she fell to her knees in their shared room. Their small beds were thrown about and their toys discarded about the room. She picked up a small rock hippo, it was Phoset's.

She looked at it and realized that her punishment had finally arrived for what she had done so long ago. It had come in the form of betrayal, how fitting, how ironic. Slowly her tears turned to anger and within her palm, the hippo was crushed. Polyastera had done this and she would pay. She would pay dearly. Laurien stood up, and stretched out her hand. It took several moments but Aaldir arrived and when he did they became one. Laurien then shot off towards the palace. More blood would be spilled this night.




She swung Aaldir again, cleaving the final guard in half as a fresh spray of blood coated her. Before her stood the entrance to the throne room and behind her lay fresh corpses of Polyastera's guards. She had run them through easily enough, their lackluster weapons from the forge were no match for a blade of divine origin.

Laurien then pushed through the doors and came face to face with Poly. The queen had a fright in her eyes, but forced a smirk that strained her face to the point where she lost one of her chins.

“Laaaaaurieen, my dear… Finally come as your queen asked.”

"You are no Queen of mine." Laurien said with malice in her voice.

Polyastera sneered. “Evidently, you think so, as you’ve stopped obeying me and my orders whenever I ask you. What happened, Laurien? How did life without me corrupt you so?”

Laurien began to laugh mockingly. "Did you really think I was the one that needed you?”

“Pfft, of course not, you stupid wench. I know damn well what you’ve meant to me and this queendom, but you have forgotten who is in charge here.” Polyastera rose up with some effort and another horde of guards came out from the sidelines and surrounded Laurien with star-forged spears. “I am the QUEEN, Laurien! And when I command you to destroy those who oppose me, you do it without question!” She snapped her fingers and another pair of guards came out of the dark behind her. They each held daggers in one hand, and in the other, they each clutched one of Laurien’s children. The daggers were placed at their throats. “Is that clear?” Polyastera finished.

She looked to her children, their pleading eyes stained with tears. The grip upon her sword tightened as she looked to Polyastera again."That's the problem then… I realize now that I should have never let you be Queen, you fat hippo. You just had to ruin yourself with drink and food and your little monsters that you call children. You are pathetic and have forgotten your place, Polyastera. Mortal."

Polyastera gasped. “Hectore, do you think I’m fat?!”

The beaten husk of a man stepped forth from behind Polyastera’s stone throne. He shook his head slowly and said, “No, my queen… You are as perfect as ever…” His voice was frighteningly mechanic.

Polyastera smirked. “Thank you, dear. I love it so when you compliment me. As for you…” She glared at Laurien. “I may be mortal, dear, but don’t be so cocky as to forget that you are, too! Guards! Bring me her head!”

The spear-wielding warriors lunged as one. Only to be met by a rage fueled Laurien, who proceeded to attack first at a frightening level of speed. Indeed, the warrior pushed herself unlike ever before and this was the doom of the guards. Their spears glanced off her armor as a few hit her and then with a quick flurry of strikes she decapitated three guards and before one spear could hit the floor, Laurien grabbed it and flung it at the Nebulite holding Andromeda hostage. It hit him in the head and went straight through, allowing her daughter to escape his knife as he slumped to the floor.

The guards began to scream as she grabbed another spear and chucked it at the one holding Photet. Unlike before, the spear hit him in his shoulder, soliciting a howl of pain as he stumbled backwards. Photet broke free and ran to his sister. The two children then watched as their mother made quick work of the rest of the guards, their blood staining the sandstone floors as they fell one by one. She was brutal in her work and when the last guard stopped screaming, the blood soaked visor of Laurien turned to Polly once again and began to advance.

The queen began to whimper and screamed, "Hectore! Do something!"

Like a machine, the Huntsmaster sprung to life, took his spear and flew at Laurien with a flurry of thrusts.

Laurien narrowly dodged to the side, using Hectore's reckless speed to her advantage, and attempted to cut him in half at his waist as he went by. However, with an incredible twist of the body, the Hunter managed to turn his forward momentum into a sharp upward turn. From up there, he dropped down with his spear thrust forward in an impaling strike.

Laurien flew backwards at the sight, Hectore's spear just scratching her armor as the spear flew down. Laurien then tried to use her blade to push the spear away from the front of Hectore so she could get in close. The hunter instead let her forward momentum carry the spear a distance away, side-stepped and placed a flat-palm strike at the side of her helmet.

Laurien growled as she renewed her asphalt in earnest. The armored figure then slashes her sword at Hectore in a flurry of offensive strikes. The hunter stepped out of the way deftly and resumed his stance. Behind him, Polyastera screamed, “KILL HER, YOU IMBECILE!” The warrior seemed to deflate, looking at Laurien with hollow eyes.

Laurien recognized that Hectore was already defeated and broken shell of his former self. She'd be doing him a mercy. She positioned her blade so that the tip pointed at him and then lunged, aiming for his heart. The sword pierced true and the hunter dropped his spear to the ground. With his dying breath, he whispered, “At last…” and gave Laurien a weak smile. He then slumped to the ground to join his dead colleagues.

Laurien's helmet then disappeared to reveal a gaze ripe with anger as she approached Polyastera.

The queen began to squirm to her feet, but slipped in the blood that was caking her floor and fell over. She looked up at Laurien with dazed eyes and said, "Killing me will--... You… You will ruin this queendom. I. Am. Asteria."

"You are a failure, nothing more, nothing less. I will remove your stain from this Empire and it will grow without your blight and corruption holding it back. Your children will be sold as concubines and slaves or be fed to the Natal. Your loyalists will be purged and destroyed and when this is all said and done… I will find a new ruler, one far younger and beautiful to rule in your stead and you, my dear Polly, will be forgotten." Laurien said with wickedness before falling to her knees on top of her.

Polyastera coughed under her weight and lied staring wide eyed. "No… This cannot be how I die. Not me. Not Polyastera!" She stretched as far as she could towards a nearby blade.

Without saying a word, Laurien put her gauntleted hands around Poly's throat and squeezed as hard as she could. The queen tried to pull the hand away, but it was utterly futile. Her weak hands could barely get a grip around them. As she felt the bones in her neck crack, she whispered, "L-Laurien… Please…"

Laurien paid her no mind as she stared down at her. Polly was a monster and needed to be absolutely destroyed. She no longer desired her, nor did anyone else. Aaldir whispered more into her mind and she knew she wanted to kill Poly. For she had overstepped and needed the final punishment of life. Death.

The queen coughed her last breath before the corpse went limp. There was silence. After she was sure Polly was dead, Laurien let out a loud breath and let go. The sudden exhaustion hit her like a wave but she had other priorities. Before even standing up she turned around to see her children cowering behind a pillar, their eyes were huge and frightened beyond belief. She made her way over to them, her armor disappearing and the sword floating near her. As she got close, Andromeda pulled Phoset closer to her. They were both shaking and Laurien could tell they were in shock.

She got onto her knees and opened her arms. "Andromeda… Phoset… Come here." she pleaded. They both shied away when she spoke but she saw Phoset's eyes. They were scared of her. And in that moment, Laurien realized just how scarred for life they would be and how much she hated herself for putting them through it. No… Poly put them through it… Laurien began to cry, her arms dropping as she looked to the floor. The moment their mother began to cry, the children hesitantly went over to her and Laurien looked up, embracing the both of them. They began to sob into her arms, the shock over as they let it all out.

“Mommy?” came another voice, a slightly squeakier version of the one Laurien already had ended. Laurien looked away from her children for a moment to see Polyastera II, Omnipotens, Polyastera III, IV and Omnipotens II, all six standing by the throne displaying varying levels of understanding of the situation. Omnipotens and Polyasteras III and IV all burst into loud crying, Omnipotens II looked curiously and concerned at this funny, bright ichor splattered all over the floor, and Polyastera II glared sobbing daggers at Laurien. “You… You killed my MOMMY!” she screamed and trampled in the blood on the floor. “YOU KILLED MOMMY! YOU KILLED HER! YOU KILLED HER! YOU KILLED HEEEEEER!”

She turned her head to Andromeda. ”Take your brother outside, Andromeda.” she said sternly, the girl did not want to let go, but reluctantly did so. She took Phoset’s hand, the little boy crying out for Laurien as they left. The tall woman stood up and flew over to the children before they could react. She looked down at them with disgust, before slapping Polyastera II across her face. ”Quiet your tongue, or I will feed you to the Natal.” she said with disgust. All of them immediately quieted down. It would seem that they were used to this treatment and knew very much how to correctly respond to avoid it.

“Auntie Laurien?” Omnipotens asked, stifling a sob.

”Yes Omni?” Laurien said, looking at the boy.

“.. What… What will you do to us?”

She gave him and the others a fake smile, ”I won’t do anything to you, my dears.” she lied.

“...Oh,” Omnipotens said hollowly and looked over at Polyastera’s corpse. “... Why did you kill mommy?”

”Kill her? No, no no my dear ones. I tried to save her from Hectore, but it was too late when I arrived. He tried to attempt a coup and now… One of you must take the throne.” she said coldly.

The children’s expressions betrayed varying levels of understanding once more. “I’ll take it!” Polyastera II asserted stubbornly. “I’m oldest, so it passes to ME!” The others didn’t look too keen on protesting.

”Yes, yes. But for now, this is no place for children. Go back to your rooms and when the time is right, I shall call for you.” Laurien said.

“You better, dear,” the oldest daughter snapped and set off towards her room. As the other children bumbled after, Omnipotens remained to say, “Sorry about her… She’s like that,” before walking off, too.

Laurien crossed her arms and watched the children scamper off. She already knew which one would be on the throne and it would not be Polyastera II. Though she would feel bad for a time, it would be necessary, in the end. Whatever it takes, for her and her children’s survival.

With that done, she walked outside and found Andromeda and Phoset waiting patiently. She patted their heads and then went down to their level. ”Now… You have to promise mommy that you’ll keep what you saw in there a secret, okay? No one can know… Or they might take me away from you. Do you understand?” she said with concern in her voice.

Andromeda nodded and eventually, Phoset did too. “But mommy, what about our cousins? Don’t they know too?” Phoset asked.

Laurien smiled. ”Don’t worry about them, my loves. They are going to go away for a long time, for their safety. Only the littlest ones will remain. Now come on, I did say I was going to teach you how to fly, didn’t I?”




Events transpired quickly after that fateful day. The blood was cleaned, the bodies discarded, and many things were swept under the rug. What was not, was the only truth anyone needed to hear: Rebels masquerading as loyalists slew Polyastera and all of her children save two. Omnipotens III and Polyastera V were the only survivors, and Omnipotens III was crowned king of Asteria at the ripe age of three. Laurien would be his advisor, as well as a slew of other Nobles vying for control. All of Asteria was called upon to unite and end the threat of the rebels to secure their beloved Queen’s legacy.

Unofficially, Laurien was in complete control of the young king. True to her word, she had done away with Poly’s old loyalists. Titanon, Phillia, Pallason and the rest were stripped of their homes, wealth and resources and then murdered for ‘treason’. Though a few did manage to escape or weren't found. The rest of the nobility and slave lords were fed their wealth to placate them, but some gold and other items went to the poor as a means of good faith. As for Polly’s other six children, they were secretly sold to slavers, and then sent off to the Talemonese. With any luck, they would not be seen, or heard from again.

A new age was beginning in Asteria, and this time, Laurien would be the one to lead it. Indirectly of course, for that was what she desired. And this time, she would not let anyone get in her way.




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The Forgeguard





The shriek of Coldforged Ice rang out, as two giants clashed.

It was a sparring match, to test out their new weapons - which had been made blunt, of course, in order to prevent injury. Ivar, tall and broad-shouldered, with his long black hair and short beard, grinned confidently as he stood off against Leske, a stubbled blond-haired man with an almost permanent smirk etched on his face. Like all Jotnar men, they each wore nothing save a furry loincloth. The two stepped back from each other, sizing the other up. A small crowd of perhaps a dozen or so forgeguard had gathered, watching with interest.

"So I'm thinking," Ivar said, as they stared each other down, "that it's all about footwork."

And with those words he stepped forward. Leske raised his sword, and three quick exchanges ensued as attacks and counter-attacks were made, until suddenly Ivar darted to the right. He narrowly avoided a lunge from Leske, and responded with a lunge of his own, stopping just before Leske's shoulder.

Leske's smirk dipped into a frown, and as Ivar pulled the sword away, the shorter man sprang to action. He swung high, aiming for Ivar's shoulder, and as Ivar moved his blade to block, he suddenly changed course and swatted Ivar's leg. "No fancy footwork there," Leske's smirk returned, as Ivar glared at him, "just a bit of deception."

"Aye," Ivar nodded grudgingly as they once more backed away from each other. "But try that again, now that I'm ready for it."

Once again they advanced upon each other, swords clashing and shrieking, occasionally breaking apart before moving in once again. After one particularly fierce exchange, Ivar swung high at Leske's head. Rather than block or parry the blow outright, Leske instead avoided it, dropping to one knee. While doing so he scooped a fistful of snow in his offhand, then flung it up into Ivar's face.

Ivar reeled backward, more shocked than anything else, while Leske leapt to his feet, swinging upward into Ivar's groin. As Ivar let go of his weapon and slumped to the ground, the observers groaned or shook their heads in disapproval. Leske's smirk remained... until Ivar wiped the snow from his eyes, and with an expression of pure fury he shot forward, slamming into Leske's midsection. The two hit the snow, and Ivar began to rain punches down, Leske fending off the attacks with his own hands. A few viewers cheered, but most exchanged uncertain glances - this was no longer a sparring match, but a brawl.

"Both of you! Enough!" Wulfgar's distant voice cut through Ivar's rage.

Ivar immediately got off of Leske, rising to his feet and turning to face Wulfgar. Leske rose a moment later, spitting a bloody tooth onto the ground and rubbing his jaw. Both wore expressions of varying anger and frustration, but Wulfgar had been their chieftan before they came here, and so neither hesitated to obey.

Wulfgar walked up to the pair until he was mere feet away. "We asked you," he snarled, looking from Ivar's eyes to Leske's, "to practice techniques with these weapons. Yet here you are trying to kill each other, with your weapons abandoned in the snow!"

"We were practicing," Leske interjected, "until this fool lost his temper."

"Craven idiot," Ivar cursed. "Can't beat anyone in a straight fight, can you?"

"In a fight for my life, I'd do whatever it took to win," Leske retorted. "Nothing less."

"If you can't win a fake fight without cheating, how do you expect to win a real one?" Ivar demanded.

"It's not cheating to-" Leske began.

"Enough!" Wulfgar snapped. "You're meant to be practicing, not squabbling. If you can't work with each other, then we'll give the job to someone else. Take a break, and then get back to your duty."

Both men growled at that, but nodded. They retrieved their weapons, and parted ways. The crowd dispersed uncertainly. It was very rare for the jovial moods of Leske or Ivar to be fouled. They were from the same tribe, and had always been friends - to see them angry at each other was jarring indeed.



Wulfgar stepped inside the tower, which was empty save for his three co-chieftans.

"How did it go?" Ralof asked, turning to face him.

"Poorly," Wulfgar grumbled. "They practiced well enough, at first. But things turned sour when they had a disagreement over conduct."

"Oh?" Asvald wondered.

"Leske threw some snow and went for the groin," Wulfgar said. "A smart move, but Ivar lost his temper and started a brawl."

Ingrid frowned. "Of course he was angry. It's not a real fight; Leske didn't need to do that."

"Maybe we should place some sort of code on how duels are to be fought?" Ralof suggested. "Prevent misunderstandings, or bad blood."

"It depends on how close to a real fight we're trying to make it," Wulfgar pointed out. "We're going to be handing these weapons out soon, and if they are turned against us, we'll need to be ready for the real thing. Sharp edges, life or death, anything goes."

Ingrid frowned. "We won't put up much of a fight if half of us are bruised from training injuries and angry at the other half over it," she pointed out.

"Maybe," Wulfgar conceded. "Hand out more weapons. Blunt ones, of course. See how the others take to sparring. Could just be those two who can't keep calm."






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Hidden 24 days ago 24 days ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Δόξα στον εξωσκελετό

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“Hrrgghh.”

A dozen mouths stretched wide in a fetid yawn. Buzzing things rose in a small cloud from the shifting body, which had until then been coated in them like a swarming black shroud.

“Thhe moshht… Guts, my head.”

Vrog’s hand groped around, digging ruts in the soil, until it finally found its way up to his head. Or, at least, a head that he thought was his.

“Getta yer paw off, mudsnout! Head’s crackin’ bad ‘nuff without that!”

”Nrrgh. Shut it!”

He spun his wrist, sending the foreign head and everything attached to it flying a few feet away with a thud and a squeal. Groaning and grumbling in a few voices at once, he pulled his swollen bulk to its feet and let out an exploratory tongue, which was conspicuously missing its tip. As he rose, the tree he had been leaning against, deprived of its last support, careened down and fell by his side in a crash. Its trunk, corroded to a thin blackened husk full of rotted sludge, snapped open, releasing a swarm of thrumming pests. More crawled out from the grimy quagmire the top of wilted leaves had landed in. The land clearly had not gained much from having been his resting place.

By comparison, the figure that approached the beheaded stump on wooden steps was incongruously clean, in a way that irked Vrog’s painfully sharpened senses. He snapped a pointing finger towards it, flicking a thin spray of corrupt sludge that was, however, carefully eluded. The attendant’s glowing head flickered and it shook a vise-hand, jangling the pocket-watch it had been holding for what must have been a long time.

Vrog's tongue whipped towards the heap he had tossed away. “You there,” he motioned with a finger, “open that up.”

The piggut sat up, chewing on a maggot picked up from the ground, and grunted "Do it yerself."

“Like spit I'm going to.” The tipless tongue cracked like a lash, and the piggut rose to its hooves with a reluctant grunt. It trotted over to the watch-bearer, indifference to everything and everyone shining through its beady eyes, and tipped the cover aside.

A moment later it jumped away with a shriek, shaking off the mouth that had taken a liking to its paw. "Rutter, y'knew it'd do that!"

“Worth a shot.” Vrog's gurgling laugh turned to another groan. With a flick, a flask was in his hand, and a grey liquid poured from it into the watch as the mannequin held it flat. When it was empty, it went flying over its considerably more cheerful owner's shoulder. Free to stop holding his head as though it might come split apart any moment, he probed the air with more tongues. “How'd you get here anyway?”

The piggut shrugged and belched. "If ye don't know that," it snatched a fat buzzing thing out of the air and noisily licked it up, "Came out with the water if I'd to guess. One thing I'm sure is the others ain't far behind."

“Others? What d'you mean not far-” something rumbled inside him. “Spit.”

The rumble moved up into his throat and was overtaken by a distant metallic banging. He stretched a mouth open, and a trio of swine-faced goblins clothed in coarse rags tumbled out of it. They sniffed around, gaining their bearings, then ran off into the thick of the woods, squealing and brandishing their cleavers.

“Gut it, it's starting now!” Another wave of rumbling began to rise. Vrog shoved a hand into the mouth and pushed something down. “Grab the watch and get up here!”

"That thing? Forget it." A metal wrist clicked, and the piggut went rolling. It picked itself up with an indignant noise, but snagged the watch in its teeth and latched onto Vrog's shoulders. Another couple of newcomers went trundling by.

“Strap on back there. You drop the thing, you're dead!”

The pair leapt off like a burdened frog, leaving a puddle of filth and a hovering cloud of gnats behind. The lantern-head head followed them with a blank stare, then wound up its eye and strode off towards the temple.




A path of putrid tracks wound through the forest, now and then widening into shallow mires where the feet that left them had paused to disgorge some more visitors. Trees had been toppled at nearly every step with tell-tale impatience.

The trail ended on a cliffside. Steam drifted skyward from the sea below, and enormous luminous bodies oscillated along with the waves.

Vrog crouched near the edge, holding his middle mouth closed with both hands as something rumbled inside. The piggut on his back looked at the sea with unease.

"Ghak? Ghe're gheing ghere?" To its credit, it still had not dropped the watch.

“Yes, now keghaghhhh-” Opening another mouth to answer had been a mistake. The rumbling receded, then suddenly surged up again and erupted from the new exit point.

A torrent of rugged pink hide, specked with gleams of rusted metal and patches of discoloured grey rags, tore its way out of the maw, stretching and pushing it apart to fit its clusters of tangled shapes. They popped to pieces as they struck the ground, suine faces grunting and snarling at each other as each sought the rest of their packs. Vrog’s head was pulled apart to an alarming point as several bodies as large as himself emerged. The massive, bloated pigguts smelled their rivals as soon as they plopped out onto the ground, and their beady eyes flashed at each other full of beastly aggression, but only a few came to blows. The best part fell upon the mob of their lessers, itself about to erupt into one huge brawl. The chorus of angry squeals ad club strikes that followed was by no means quieter, but a fraction more orderly, and before long the gaggle split into groups that chased each other inland with a litany of grunted curses. If there had been any corpses, none were left behind - one could not fault the impish mob with being wasteful in this.

Vrog leaned back, wheezing from the brutalized mouth and the ones around it. He rubbed the skinless gangrene under a limply hanging jaw. The piggut hanging from his shoulders took the chance to loosen a hand and pick its nostrils with a finger.

“Gut it, feel way lighter now. You still there?” A crack and a curse followed as the jaw finally snapped back into relative shape.

“Others wosn’t there yet.” It took the watch in its hand to answer, then bit it again and went back to its snout.

“Spitting lot more of you that’s still inside,” Vrog grumbled and pushed himself upright with a hand, “But should keep them in till I’m over the sea now.”

“Bet ya y’can’t.”

“Bet ya I can! Loser keeps the watch.”




“Told you. Should’ve fattened up ‘fore throwing me a bet.”

“Ghuh-hah - ghu ghoht - lost some on them glowrocks.”

“Some don’t count. Weren’t any of yours anyway.”

The piggut tried to retort, but a reckless jump made it bite down on the chain. Vrog and his passenger dropped down the face of a mountain, caught a rocky outcropping with a crash, tumbled dangerously over a steep slope and slid to a halt at its foot. A cut-off tongue bent out in a hooked shape and probed the air.

“Almost there. Couple more climbs left.”

“Engh ghen?”

“Then I kick your spit face to a place you can stop at. You can make more of you?”

After a shrug went unnoticed, a grunt came by way of reply.

“You do that, and we’ll all have the time of our spitting life.” The last words were rejoindered by a low, distant drumming. “Guts, they’re coming again.”

As luck would have it, the heap of filth, metal and swineskin had landed in sight of a pass. The piggut banged on the left side of Vrog’s helmet, and the blind monster heavily turned that way. Their path up the dry rock, crossed in a jagged line of leaps, was accompanied by the mounting and ebbing of the rumble, louder than ever before. It reached a thunderous peak as Vrog vaulted over the crest of the pass, and, finding an unexpectedly steep cliff on the other side, began to half-roll, half-skid downwards.

He rattled and clanked for a good stretch, leaving behind a trail of slimy stone worthy of a gigantic slug, before catching an inconveniently smooth rocky spur. The clattering mess drifted through the air with the grace of a displaced avalanche, scattering some low-flying kites, and for a moment it looked as though it might remain suspended up there for good.

The illusion was soon dispelled by a resounding crash and a plume of salt that obscured Heliopolis and smothered a vibrant blue kite’s fabric in white.

A snout emerged from a nearby puddle, covered in strands of pink weed. It stared as Vrog disentangled himself from the bundle he had landed in, staggered a couple of steps forward, leaned back and split apart. A jagged rift burst open around his midsection, and metal plates slid to the sides, baring an enormous pair of jaws over where his stomach should have been. The horrid maw gnawed, spat, awned wide, revealing a cavernous pit of pools of nauseating filth and pillarlike strands of mucus -

With a tearing retching sound like the churning of an apocalyptic whirlpool, dozens, hundreds of squat pink bodies poured out between the sparse yellow spines and iron scraps of its teeth. The crowd of pigguts rolled as if punted by a gigantic foot. A few collided with each other and stopped within sight, or fell into mires and sat up, spitting saltwater. Most, however, continued to roll, spinning away towards the flat horizon with small white clouds over their trails. Curious kites followed in the drafts from their motion.

The piggut with the watch crawled out of its puddle, licking algae from its face. Vrog pulled himself back up, wiped a small cascade of spittle from his abdominal mouth and dragged it closed with a brief, yet intense bout of muttered cursing.

“What’s doing with this?” It shook the watch on its chain.

“Throw something good in there sometimes,” Vrog distended a mouth in a stretched-out flat trumpet and breathed out a cloud of grey mist between its jutting teeth. The acrid fog swept over the piggut, triggering a spell of grunting wheezes. “You’ll find ‘em that way. Long as you do, you won’t regret it.” He snapped the outturned teeth into place with a finger one by one. “And if you don’t, you will.”

As watch and piggut trotted away towards where some leftover newcomers were picking themselves up, Vrog’s shadow began to stretch past its contours, despite the glare from the sky staying as still as always. Though he could not have seen it, his tongue hovered it with unease while it grew, stretching out like an oily puddle and indeed seeming almost as bulgingly solid.

Any doubt anyone might have had about that solidity was dispelled when the shadow stood up, towering a good few heads above its caster, and glared at him with four burning eyes.

”You thought I wouldn’t know?” it reached with a claw that gained dimensions as it moved and clenched Vrog’s head in a merciless vise. Smoke rose from his putrid flesh where the pitch-black fingers touched it. ”I felt that, rothead. Someone took my guts and cleared them out. You know how long it took me to fill them? What scrap did you do this time?”

“Ow, spit, the head!” Vrog squirmed, or, more accurately, wobbled under the brutal grip, “Let u-” the grip only tightened, “Fine, fine, here’s the thing. I got good news, and I got bad news...”




Hruf picked up a fistful of coarse white grains from the ground, licked them and threw them away over her shoulder. Most landed on Kniff, who phlegmatically wiped them off his face, stood up and hit Hruf under her left ear with his club. Hruf answered by punching Kniff straight in the still salty snout. The two traded a few more lazy blows before wheezing and collapsing on their backsides. Off to the side, Nahf kicked up sprays from a puddle with a hoof.

“Salt, salt, more sodding salt,” Hruf grumbled, “Only things moving’s them wood crows.” The kites overhead hovered on unperturbed. “Why the rut’d Oruff get us ‘ere? Ain’t no feed, no snatch, nothin’.”

“Dunno it was her that did,” Kniff huffed, “But the place’s mud rutstraight.”

“Gotta be her,” Hruf insisted, “Went off somewhere, stays disappeared days long, then we’re here.”

“Ask her yerserlves, ‘ere she is.” Nahf pointed at a squat approaching figure.

Oruff was quick to waddle close up, munching on something. In one hand she carried a bundle of pink weeds from a marsh, and in the other a round metallic object kept oscillating at the length of a slender chain.

“‘Ere!” Hruf waved her cleaver at the newcomer, “What kinda mudflat’s this? What got in yer head dragging us here?”

“And what’s that stuff?” Kniff added, eyeing the strange trinket.

“Place’s good,” Oruff smacked Hruf over the forehead with the shiny circle, swinging it on its chain like a miniature flail. It clicked open from the blow and bit the closest ear, eliciting an angry squeal. Oruff continued unperturbed. “Ya try this?” She waved the pink strands before the others’ snouts.

Nahf shook his head. “What good’s eating leaves?”

“No good just so, but I got an idea,” Oruff eyed a stray piggut poking through the ground a fair distance behind them and nodded at it with an expressive snarl. “Lots of ideas. Me, ya three and this lil’ thing,” she jangled the watch, which Hruf had extricated from her ear, “we’re going to have the time of our rutting life. Just ya watch.”



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Hidden 23 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Kalmar




Atop the tallest mountain in the Frigid Forest, as a blizzard raged around him, Kalmar stared at the metal cage with an expression of befuddlement. Arryn had once again set a task aside in order to do something that the bird decided was more important.

In this case, at least, Arryn had been right. Narzhak's aura was unmistakable, and there was no doubt that the item was powerful. Arryn's description of it had certainly been alarming. An artifact that gave its wearer immense power as a reward for betraying, murdering, and eating their own kin? No, this could not stand.

But what to do? His recent work had expended much of his effort. The creation of the Jotnar and the Vallamir, as well as the various gifts he had bestowed upon them, had drained him. Right now, he simply lacked the energy.

Still, it wasn't like there was anything he couldn't do.

For a start, he would take measures to punish whoever would wear such an infernal device. Two curses he placed upon it, ensuring that the wearer would likely freeze to death or be torn apart by wild animals. Then he encased it in a block of ice. Hefting it over his shoulder, he brought it down the mountain, to the Frozen Citadel. As he walked through the courtyard, members of the Forgeguard stared at their god in befuddlement. Duels were stopped, heads turned, and all stopped what they were doing to salute.

Kalmar waved for them to carry on, and brought the block into what the Jotnar called the Forgeguard. There, the weapons and tools were made. Frost Giants were compacting snow into the areas of the moulds that should be the handles, and then filling the blade areas with water, which would soon turn to ice and then be put through the Coldforge. They, too stopped their work to acknowledge their god, but Kalmar waved for them to carry on.

He stopped before the Coldforge itself, pulled it open, and then slid the block of ice in. Then, he waited, a deathly quiet in the room. Minutes passed, but none disturbed him, and eventually the noise resumed as the Jotnar awkwardly returned to their work.

Only after an hour had gone by did Kalmar finally move once again, pulling the newly coldforged iceblock out, and carrying it outside.



"Jotnar!" Kalmar proclaimed before the assembled Forgeguard who had gathered outside, as he dropped the block in the snow in front of him. "This is a cursed artifact," he proclaimed, "Created by the Narzhak, God of War. Intended to grant power, at a terrible price. In addition to guarding the Coldforge, your duty is also now to guard this. Do not use it, do not let any outsiders get their hands on it. Keep it hidden, keep it secret, keep it safe, and risk your lives to do so if necessary. Should you surrender it, or try to use it yourself, you will be punished. Am I clear?"

Glances were exchanged, nervous words were uttered. Ingrid and Wulfgar stepped forward simultaneously. "We'll see it done," they declared, Ingrid's tone eager and Wulfgar's tone grave. Ralof and Asvald gave their assent as well.

"Good," Kalmar said with a nod of his own. "I'll leave you to it."

And with that, the God of the Hunt began to walk away, the crowd parting to allow him through. He exited the keep and began his journey down the mountain slope, leaving the Forgeguard to their new duty.






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Hidden 23 days ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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Clouds Across Great Moksha’s Shine


Wenbo sat silently on a carpet on the veranda of the city palace. By his feet his crown had been neatly placed and the great golden mantle laid not too distantly from it again. The dreamer lord had a slow, steady breath; his eyes were fixed on the great bright mist in the sky. A myriad of worries and anxieties filled his mind and with a strained wince, he focused all his concentration into drowning them out. Moksha had shown him a multitude of sights and played a symphony of sounds. There was laughter, song, grunts and sighs, and one thunderous guffaw stood out in particular, a cheerful bass that seemed to vibrate the very bones of its listeners. Wenbo snorted out two quick shoots of air and felt that familiar itch in his nose that always seemed to come whenever he meditated on Moksha. Two fingers dabbed his orange-ringed eye and Wenbo shook his head with a weak snicker.

“Hey, Chaggie… Wouldn’t be possible for you to pass down some leadership tips from up there, would it?

Moksha didn’t reply much, Wenbo had found, but there was a certain joy in the hope that up there, in God’s grace, his beloved brother was listening. A pang of longing slammed into his chest like a hammer and Wenbo nearly felt the need to cough. He cleared his throat instead and went into a routine kowtow.

“... To my God, I offer my faith; to my family, my love. I miss you all, and will see you when my time here has come to an end.”

A faint green wink of light flickered in the nebula and Wenbo felt another sting in the nose. He stood up and dusted off his knees before collecting the mantle and the crown and heading into his bedroom.

“Wenbo, dear?” came Ai’s voice from the changing room.

“Yes, love?” replied Wenbo absent-mindedly as he placed the mantle on a clay mannequin.

“Have you seen Bean Bun anywhere?” The alabaster-haired face peeked out from the curtain-covered doorway. Wenbo hummed.

“Nnnno… Not for a few hours, anyway. Maybe he’s in the wine cellar again?”

Ai gave a light groan and went back inside. “Could you go check? I’d rather not have him drink the wine we’ve been saving for Yongqi’s marriage.”

Wenbo clicked his tongue. “A fair point. I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Oh, and check on Bei, too, would you? She’s so nervous for her speech.”

“I will, I will.” The dreamer lord put on his wicker sandals and pushed aside the wood-and-paper slider door to the hallway, bringing with him a torch.
The hallway’s darkness fled before the flickering light of the torch as Wenbo made his way down the complicated maze of corridors and empty rooms. He could never remember which ones everyone had moved into, and it annoyed him that only a subset of his children and grandchildren had bothered to hang up namesigns on their doors. The further he went, the more the doors and rooms seemed to blend into one another. Finding Bei’s room in the darkness would take ages.

He would head to the cellars first. At least then, he had some scent to follow.




“It’s a profound joy to be given the honour of holding this speech to my--... No, no, no, that’s so convoluted…”

Wen Bei rubbed her bloodshot eyes. She had spent days writing this speech for her precious nephew, little Yongqi who in many ways had been just as much her own son as it was her brother’s. He was in his late teens now, and set to wed the beautiful young Changchun. Bei hoped she could still rely on him to come by every now and then and help her with the harvest and the baking. Oh, and babysit little Rende and Kongrong. In a multitude of different ways, she wanted to thank him - but to condense all of these into a simple speech was much harder than the lady had thought it would be. She took another deep breath and started over:

“It’s a profound joy to speak my love, no, appreciation? No, no, uhm… Ugh…” She put down her script again. She looked over her shoulder to see her husband, Jochi, droning a quiet snore. She sighed and went over to their window. She looked up to the green mists of Moksha and closed her eyes. Calm violins filled the room around her; the sugary scent of sweetgrass tickled at her nostrils; distant giggles of old friends and family echoed in the corners of her mind. A tranquil warmth lazed its way through her body and Bei felt her legs buckle slightly.

The wedding was still a few days off. She stole a glance at the bed again. She could allow her mind some rest, she thought.




There it was again. The jerk of neck, ab and back muscles as the body realises it’s about to keel over. Snap, he had fallen asleep on guard again! Wen Tian slapped his cheek in frustration and scanned the multitude of wine pots he could see from his stool. Snapping-- He was the second oldest son of Wenbo and Ai and he would be damned before some snooping cloudling got into the pots on his wa--

”Pop-pop…”

Tian jerked to his feet and grabbed the small pot of sour wine next to his stool. He pulled off the cloth lid and slowly snook his way between the tall wine pots in the dark room. He squinted as hard as he could, the dark outlines of pots, shelves and lids sharpening a little bit.

One lid in particular seemed a little too bloated.

Carefully, Tian shuffled up to the bloated lid and, holding ready the pot of sour wine, gave the lid a poke.

There came an eggy burp from the pot and Tian winced with a quiet “ugh”. No, that was just fermentation at work.

”Zzt!”

Tian spun around. A couple of pots away, a translucent shape drifted slowly up from under a half-open lid. It popped suspiciously at the surroundings and Tian shouted, “Aw, snap-- Bean Bun!”

The cloudling spun about and gave a chuckle-like pop before soaring off. Tian gave chase, nearly tipping a number of pots in the process. He wafted his hand over the sour wine to spread the smells, but the cloudling didn’t seem interested. However, Tian knew he had him cornered, for Bean Bun was heading towards the door in the corner.

And the door was locked!

“It’s over, Bean Bun! You have nowhere to run!” Tian exclaimed triumphantly and made himself as big as he could by stretching out his arms and taking a wide stance with his legs.

The cloudling had no face, but its bewilderment was evident in its ”Pop?” Tian slowly closed in, a victorious smirk on his lips.

Then the door swung open and a blinding light set the wine cellar aflame with radiance. Tian fell backwards to the ground, dropping the pot of wine to the floor with a hollow, lucky thunk! He threw his hands up in defense and bellowed, “LIGHT! AGONY! AAAAAGH!”

“Tian, son, what’re you doing?” came a confused voice.

Tian uncovered his face and scrambled to his feet. As his eyes adjusted to the flickering flame, he recognised the slightly worried frown of his father. Tian dusted himself off and grinned. “Oh! Hey, dad! Uh, nothing! Just… Guarding the wine! As per your instructions.”

Wenbo pursed his lips. “Yeah, that’s, uhm… Great! Say, have you… Been sitting in here all night?”

“Yeah, ‘course. Gotta, gotta protect the wine, you know. Just doing my duty, dad.”

“Naturally, son, but… You sure you wouldn’t want some fresh air? Maybe a bite to eat?”

“Thanks, but no thanks, dad! I must keep my keen eye on these pots so no cloudlings get-- Oh no!” Tian sidestepped Wenbo and looked up the stairwell. Bean Bun was nowhere to be found. “... Bean Bun got away…”

“Oh, so he was in here?” Wenbo asked with a hum.

“Yeah… And now he’s gone…” Tian said in deep defeat.

Wenbo patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Tian. Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t happen to know which pot Bean Bun drank from?”

Tian shook his head. “It was dark. They all look the same in the shadows.”

Wenbo huffed and went over to the pots with his torch, inspecting each of the lids. When he came across the half-open one, he snickered and stuck his hand inside. Tian came over to see and after a few moments of Wenbo rummaging inside, there came a surly “Zzt!” Out of the pot came a small flock of newborn cloudlings, some of which buried themselves in Wenbo and Tian’s black hair. Wenbo shook the wine off his hand and chuckled; Tian stared at the crowd of cloudlings on his father’s head and poked the pile on his own.

“Oh, well,” Wenbo said with a snicker. “I suppose it’s fine if we don’t get completely knock-out drunk at the wedding.”

Tian hung his head. “Are you ashamed of me, dad?”

Wenbo scoffed and squeezed his son’s shoulder. “Ashamed of my son for something like this? I’m not His Lordship, blessings upon Him. No, if you think I’ll scold my thirty year old son for this like you were some toddler, then you’re overthinking this.”

Tian gave a weak chuckle. “Heh… Yeah. I, uh, I think I ought to head to bed.”

“Sounds like a plan, son,” Wenbo agreed. “Say good night to Shenmei for me, would you?”

“If she’s not already asleep. Thanks, dad.” With drowsy steps, the second oldest son shuffled up the dark stairwell towards his room, the cloudlings on his head lazily hitching a ride and popping gleefully all the way.




“WAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” came a squeal from the next room. Wen De’s groggy eyes opened with reluctance and he poked the shape of his wife.

“Chunhua, could you--”

“Nuh-uh,” came a defiant voice. De deflated.
“Pleeeeeaaase?”

“I did it last night…” Chunhua insisted and curled up further under the thin blanket. De gave a groan.

“Fine… I’ll be right back.” The youngest of Wenbo’s sons sat up on the side of the bed, did a half-hearted stretch and stood up, shuffling into the next room. The squeals had doubled now, as the first twin had awoken his brother and now the two were having a fight to see who could scream the loudest. De dragged his feet over to their bed and groaned again.

“Heeeey, kids… What’s going on?”

They slowly quieted down and Yun said, “Tu scared me!”

“I had a nightmare!” the little Tu defended. De squatted down next to be bed and amiably stroked his son’s head.

“What kind of nightmare, son?”

Tu pouted. “It-... It had Yun in it, and it had the fall, and, and, and… Yun got hurt again, and then a big meanie roar came and, and--”

De sighed and gave him a hug. “Hey, it’s alright. Yun’s fine, right, Yun?”

“I’m thirsty,” the little boy complained.

“Okay, so fine soon, but no hurt anywhere, right? No broken arm again?”

Yun waved his right arm about and shook his head. “No, don’t think so.”

“See, Tu? Your brother’s fine, and the roaring? That’s just Chuanwang, you know. He’s just an old tortoise and he’s really nice.”

“He’s really scary,” Tu insisted. “What if he eats me? Or you and mommy? Or Yun?”

De sat down on the edge of the bed and ruffled the hair of them both. “Hey, listen - Chuanwang won’t eat any of us. He doesn’t like Dreamers, he’s-... He’s vegetarian.”

“What’s vedgetaran?” Yun asked.

“It means he only eats vegetables, like grampa Wenbo.”

“Are there vegetables that big, dad?”

De shrugged. “Maybe? I’d like to find out some day, too, really.” He gave them each a peck on the forehead. “Go back to sleep now, boys. We’ll be in the next room as always.” He tucked the twins in under the blanket. “Good ni--”

POP!

De turned around and the twins sat back up. “Was that Noodle?” Tu asked curiously.

“No, Noodle says ‘zzt’, not ‘pop’,” Yun corrected and Tu hummed. De went over to the window and looked out. A smile cracked across his face and he beckoned to the twins.

“Boys, come see this.”

The twins looked at each other, then quickly got out of bed and hurried over to the windowsill. Outside, across the green streak of Moksha, a swarm of cloudlings followed a slightly darker one, one they immediately recognised as Bean Bun. The boys giggled in amusement as the stressed little cloudling was seemingly chased down and possibly interrogated by its friends about where it had found all that sweet-smelling wine. De put a hand on the shoulders of each of the boys and smiled.

“Remember to thank Lord K’nell for giving us cloudlings now, boys.”

“Thank you, Lord K’nell,” the twins echoed along with their dad and the three remained staring at the spectacle for a slight while longer.



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Hidden 23 days ago 23 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Karamir




The eastern coast Dragon’s Foot was much like Karamir remembered it.

Which is why he hadn’t bothered to give that area a further look, and instead ventured deeper inland. There, he quickly discovered two things.

The Charnel Steppes stank. The Desert was hot.

Fortunately, the downside of the latter ecosystem had been offset substantially, by the Frostguard Ring Kalmar had given him. By all rights he should have been sweating up puddles, yet the ring kept his body at a comfortable temperature. It was incredibly useful, perhaps even life-saving, had he lacked his red-feathered cloak, or been a mere mortal.

For a moment, he wondered if there was someone out there who could get more out of the ring than he. Perhaps that person would be better off with it. Yet no such person had been found, and so there was little point in contemplating the idea of giving it away.

As he flew over the vast, sandy desert, every now and then he took notice of life: tall, fiery creatures. He knew them, from Abanoc’s Archive. The Jotundar, fiery soldiers of Sartravius. They had been created to raze and kill, and although the book claimed many had settled down peacefully, Karamir had decided it would be best if he had a better understanding of the area before he attempted communication.

And so, for a full day he scoured the sandy region, only stopping when the sun had set and he had come across a rather deep and wide river. There, he took a drink, and then fell asleep on its bank.

He awoke the next morning with the rising sun in his eyes. After one more drink of water, he took flight, and followed the river south.

Some time later, he found the city.

The first thing he noticed was the temple. A giant building made of stone, towering above the town like a monolith. Next to that, was a large building, made of the same material. In fact all of the buildings around it were made from the same material, and from there it shifted to rock, then to another tier of light brown. All of those were inside a wall that encircled the city. In some parts the wall was discolored, obviously replaced, as it had to wrap around expansion. Outside of the wall was downtrodden shacks and farther out, fields of growing crops.

Even the lowest quality buildings seemed both impressive and fascinating to him. Already, Karamir’s mind was abuzz with questions. Abanoc’s Archive had revealed nothing about a people who lived in a city such as this, and therefore it had to be a recent development. He would have to ask the inhabitants where it came from, he decided. If there were any inhabitants.

He stared at the wall for several long minutes, contemplating how to make his approach, and then decided it would be best to start in the middle and circle around to the outside. He flew forward, glancing down at the city streets as he passed over them, and noted the inhabitants who moved about the town.

They were a tall people, with an appearance vastly different from his own, or even the Dreamers he had met at Tendlepog. A distant memory, of a dance inside a Palace ten years ago, flashed through his mind. Yes, they did look like her...

Many wore simple rags, but as he grew closer he began to see finer clothes, made of animal skins. Why was that, he wondered. Not enough to go around? He’d get a chance to ask them soon enough.

He came to a stop in front of the largest building, and then set himself down on the steps leading up to the entrance.

It did not take long for his presence to be noted. From the main doors came four, heavily armored beings, wearing the color of a crimson nebula. They wielded long, carved swords of similar make and approached slowly. Following behind them floated another figure, this one wearing similar armor, but it was not so armored. The one that floated wore a helmet that was open down the middle. Behind it he could see two gleaming white eyes and a frown.

They approached and halted two body lengths away, the one floating then said. “We’ve never seen your kind before. State your business upon these holy steps of his Lordship’s Temple or be gone.”

“Business?” Karamir frowned, recalling the time he spent with Chopstick Eyes. ”I deal in information,” he said. ”I look for information and I share it with others. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to do. What is this place?”

The floating one sneered. “This is his Lordship Shengshi’s Temple, built upon the backs of the Nebulite people. You stand upon Holy Ground Outsider, but at least we share the common tongue. Now who are you, and why have you come.”

”I didn’t think there’d be any Nebulites all the way over here,” Karamir said. ”I thought you were all on the Eye of Desolation. Anyway, I’m Karamir, of Kalgrun. Firstborn of Kalmar, First of the Vallamir. Can I ask how you made it this far, and how you built this place so quickly?”

“Pfft. We are not the islanders, we are the Asterians. And no, you may not receive any more answers, until you tell me why you’ve come.” the floating nebulite, crossed his arms.

Karamir furrowed his brow in befuddlement. ”I already told you, didn’t I? I seek to learn all that I can, and then share that knowledge with others. There’s no need to be so guarded.” Then an idea struck him. ”You know, I met Arya once…” he revealed, hoping that name would mean something here.

The other guards began to whisper to each other at the name of Arya. The floating one landed in front of them and pointed at Karamir. “You’ll be coming with us now.”

”Oh? Where are we going?” Karamir asked, unmoving.

“Lady Laurien will want to see you, and she can deal with after.” the Nebulite said.

Karamir eased up somewhat. ”Ah, she’s your leader? Let’s go then, I have questions.” He nodded, and waited for them to move.

The guards laughed and began leading him away down the steps and through the upper tier. They passed the sandstone houses of stature, the streets, much cleaner here but that wasn’t saying much. Many nebulite guards, wielding spears and without armor, stood at entrances to houses. It was quiet in the upper level, besides the occasional loud moaning or the sound of a whip cracking. Oddly enough, they passed right by the second tallest building, the one next to the temple and kept walking.

”What are those noises?” Karamir found himself asking.

“Which ones, outsider? The fucking or the whips?” said a guard before the rest burst out laughing.

Karamir’s cheeks reddened slightly, more from the laughter than the Nebulite’s crude words, which he didn’t fully understand. ”I’m not sure what either of those things are,” he said after a moment.

They began to laugh even louder after that. “And here I thought you were a man, outsider.” one of the guards said between chuckling.

The floating one then said, “That can change, here in Laurienna.”

Karamir’s mouth curled into a frown. ”Asking questions doesn’t make me any less of a man,” he said flatly, ”And I’ll do without the mockery.”

“No one was mocking you about your questions, boy, just your lack of experience.” They laughed again, before the floating one halted.

“Quiet, We’re here.”
Before them was a nice looking house, at the front entrance, three armored guards stood watch. The floating one went over to them and began to speak in a hushed tone, as they looked at him. One of the guards then went inside and a few minutes later, came back with a nod. The floating one came back over and said, “Go inside, Outsider. And goodluck.” he said, smiling before walking away with the other guards in tow. He couldn’t make out what was said, but more laughter followed.

Brow still furrowed, Karamir watched the guards leave. He had to wonder why they seemed to have so many people just standing around with their weapons. Did they do that all day? Shouldn’t they be out hunting? Another question he would need to ask at some point. But for now, as instructed he entered the building.

One of the guards led the way, and another followed. The home was eerily silent as they crossed rooms. Most of them were empty, or had broken pieces here and there. Then they crossed through a garden area, it even had a lower level, that seemed like it could contain water or something. It was empty, save for a very thin level of bloody red water at the bottom. Along the far wall there sat two figures working in the ground, pulling burned plants. They were both about the same size, but that was where the similarity ended. As they approached, the two noticed their presence and rose. Both were female, one was a pygmy and the other was a juvenile Jotundar. They did not make eye contact with them.

”Hello,” he said, as a means of introduction. He looked from them, to one of the guards. ”Three species from three different areas under one roof. How did that happen?” he asked.

The two women looked up at him and blinked. The guard behind him simply said, “Quiet.” and with one armored look, the two women got back to work without saying anything.

Once again, Karamir frowned. ”What was that about?” he asked, a disapproving look on his face.

The guards said nothing, and eventually they made it to the upper level, where two more guards were stationed before a door. There was a knowing between the four and one knocked, before opening the door. Karamir was ushered inside, and the door shut behind him.

”Out here, Karamir.” came a sweet voice. Before him was a simple room, with a very large bed, and on the far wall was another door, a faint breeze blowing in from it.

With a shrug, Karamir stepped past the bed and went through the door. He arrived on a large balcony with a view of the city. Standing with her hands on the railing was the person who had called for him. She turned around to reveal, clothing that left little to the imagination and gave him a very warm smile, before walking over to a table with a pitcher and cups. She beckoned for him to sit down.

”Karamir. It's so nice to meet you. I am Laurien, but you probably already knew that. Drink?” she asked.

”I don’t see why not,” he said, taking a seat opposite to her.

”Good!” she said, pouring a dark liquid into his cup and then her own. ”I’ll apologize for the taste, it’s very bad, but it’s the only thing we have, besides water.” she said, taking a sip.

Karamir brought the cup up to his nose, and sniffed. ”What’s in it?”

”Local berries or something. I don’t really know.” she shrugged. ”Drink enough of it, and you get a buzz. Drink a lot of it, and you’ll probably die.” she said with a chuckle.

With yet another frown, Karamir took a sip. He didn’t think much of it at first, then the aftertaste hit. He recoiled slightly, and set the cup back down.

Laurien laughed and pushed the pitcher to him. ”It’s an acquired taste and the more you drink, the moe you forget the after taste.” she took a sip. ”Now, what brings you here?”

”I travel,” Karamir answered, not moving for either his cup or the pitcher. He found his gaze briefly shifting downward, but snapped his eyes back up to her face. ”I try to learn as much as I can, in the hopes that someday I’ll be able to share it with others.”

She leaned forward, interest plastered on her face. ”Oh really? Where have you traveled?” she asked excitedly.

”Well, I started on Kalgrun,” he began. ”Then by accident I met an avatar named Diana, nearly sixty winters ago, who took me to this land. There wasn’t that much to see at the time - somehow I missed anything that might be of interest. Anyway, after that she brought me to Tendlepog, and I visited the Palace of Dreams, where I met your sister. But then I left to go my own way, and ended up in a place called the Infinite Maze. It wasn’t even a true maze, and it was terrible - I wandered for days without food and water. From there I found the Observatory, and met the God Abanoc, who taught me about some of the intelligent species of Galbar - including your own. After that I ended up on the continent directly north of here, and spent some time exploring it. I met the Goddess Chopstick Eyes, and spent some time with her. Then I came here. This city stood out, so I decided to visit.” He shrugged. ”Those are the basics, at least.”

”My, quite the traveler you are. I once met an avatar, named Vrog. He uh… Wasn’t a nice encounter, not like this one.” she said with a smile, before taking another sip. ”So, what have you learned throughout all these travels?”

”Well, I… wait, did you say Vrog?” Karamir asked suddenly. He glanced upward, as if recalling a distant memory. ”I think… I met a creature with that name. Long ago.”

She held up her wrist, to reveal faded scarring. ”I met him all too well.” she said with a frown.

Karamir gave her a sympathetic look. ”He tried to eat Diana,” he said, ”and only ignored me because he was too busy with her. I wasn’t much, back then.”

”Well, you’re here now and that’s all that matters.” Laurien smiled.

”Where did this place come from, anyway?” Karamir asked. ”Abanoc showed me nothing that suggested there were Nebulites on Dragon’s Foot. You had to have come here recently. How?”

Laurien stood up and beckoned him to follow. She went over to the balcony and stretched her arm out and said, ”We came here ten years ago, and built everything that you see before you. It wasn’t easy and claimed many lives, even our beloved Queen’s.” she said sadly.

”How did you build it?” he asked her. ”So far I’ve only known gods to be capable of building with stone. If mortals can do it, it’d be good to know how…” he stroked his chin. ”Maybe we can even find a less costly method?”

”Oh that’s simple. We found the Dari and use them to move stone down the river. We mimicked his Lordship’s boat and built rafts, crudely as they are, they float. It’s all a very complicated process, that had to be perfected quite quickly due to a time restraint. We had ten years to build the Temple, if not His Holiness Shengshi would bring ruin to us.” she said, taking another sip.

”Ruin? Over a structure?” he quirked an eyebrow. ”Why?”

”Let’s just say the Nebulites here are prone to over indulgences.” she folded her arms underneath her chest.

”Over-indulgence in what, exactly?”

She raised an eyebrow. ”Isn’t it obvious?”

”You mean food and drink?” Karamir asked. ”Is it wise to use so many resources, considering the area in which you live?”

”Food, drink, sex. All sorts of things really.” she said absentmindedly taking a sip. ”Hence why I said, over-indulgence. It isn’t wise, no, but it’s becoming ingrained in them every passing day.”

”Is there any way to change?” he asked. ”If your population keeps growing, and you keep using more resources, won’t you run out of things to enjoy?”

”I’m sure there’s ways to change, but until the time comes when it’s necessary, they will keep doing but they do best. The king is trying his hardest to do away with all the corruption, it just takes time.” Laurien said with a smirk.

”The King?” Karamir asked, suddenly confused. ”I assumed you were in charge.”

Laurien placed her empty cup on the balcony and turned to look at the palace. ”Of course not, the King is the sole authority here. I simply act as an advisor of sorts, after the royal family was murdered.”

”Murdered?” Karamir’s confusion turned to surprise.

”Yes, they were killed by rebels who wanted to overthrow the Polyastera Dynasty. Only two members survived, the current king and his younger sister.” she said with sadness.

Once again, Karamir furrowed his brow. ”So that is how your queen died?” he asked. ”Why did these rebels want to overthrow her?”

”Power, wealth, control. The usual, really.” Laurien said, looking at her nails.

Karamir looked sad at that answer. ”I read about similar incidents, which happened to other species. Is it really so normal?”

”Mortals are foolish creatures, prone to such vile things Karamir. We live in a world where there are flawed gods at every turn, is it really so surprising that their creations would be just as flawed as they are?” Laurien frowned.

”Perhaps not,” Karamir conceded, a dejected tone in his voice. When he returned to Kalgrun, would he find that his own people had adopted such flaws and corruption? Would his efforts to help them only culminate in the discovery that they were never worthy of help in the first place? These thoughts weighed heavily on him, and he fell into a melancholy silence.

Laurien put a hand on his shoulder and smiled. ”Everything okay?”

”Did it really have to end in death?” Karamir suddenly asked. ”Regardless of who was at fault, couldn’t they have found some way to settle the issue peacefully?”

Laurien let her hand fall and for a long time she said nothing, adopting the same silence that he had. She turned to the balcony and placed her hands on it. ”There was no other way.” she whispered.

”Perhaps I can ask Abanoc,” he thought aloud, his voice equally quiet.

Laurien suddenly looked up at him, her eyes wide. ”Ask Abanoc what?” she asked quickly, fear trickling into her voice.

Karamir shot her a quizzical look. ”Ask him what happened here, and if there was a way to prevent it. Even if we can’t change the past, it might prevent future incidents. Why does that bother you?”

”Bother me? I already told you what happened here. There’s no sense in dragging a God here where they aren’t wanted.” she said angrily.

”But you can’t see everything, can you?” Karamir asked, undaunted by her anger. ”There could be a detail you were unaware of, or a solution somebody hadn’t considered. Besides, I wouldn’t even need to bring him here. I can just go to his Observatory and ask. He can see everything from there.”

”No no no, that’s okay. Don’t bother yourself with us.” Laurien quickly shifted her tone to be softer. ”I insist. Please.” she said, trying to remain cool.

”Simply by asking the right questions we could save lives,” Karamir protested. ”Why are you so opposed?”

”Sometimes the truth needs to remain buried.” she said cruelly, punching Karamir in the stomach, before screaming, ”GUARDS!”

Karamir doubled over, one hand grasping the railing for support, the other hand clutching his stomach. ”What are you doing?” he gasped.

”Silencing you.” she said, before going in for a kick at his head.

It did not connect. Instead, Karamir’s entire body jerked backward, as if an unseen hand had yanked at his cloak, and he narrowly avoided the attack. He pulled himself to his feet. ”This isn’t very smart…” he warned her, hand creeping to the knife at his belt.

She outstretched her hand, and there was a strange whistling before an object erupted from the other room and found her hand. Black armor molded over her imposing frame, as Karamir saw the sword in her hand. A blackened thing that seemed to eat the light surrounding it. Laurien then said, ”Isn’t it?” before charging him in a great leap, the sword over her head.

Karamir drew his knife, and waited. At the last possible second, his cloak suddenly jerked him to the left, dodging her attack, and in that moment his knife formed into a warhammer, which he swung into her back as she passed.

There was a loud clang as weapon hit armor, sending her into the wall with a crack. The wall then collapsed onto her, covering her in stones. She growled angrily, trying to push herself up. It was then the guards came in, five in all with pointed spears of starlight and swords at their belts.

”Kill him!” Laurien screamed, pushing stones off of her.

The guards then all attacked at once, spears thrusting at Karamir.

Karamir could have fled now; fairly easily too. Yet striking her had felt invigorating, and it felt wrong to simply turn tail and flee without putting up more of a fight.

So as the five guards lunged forward, Karamir stopped them in their tracks with a wide sweep of his arm; a vicious gust of wind drove all of them back except one, who was stopped but managed to maintain his footing. He recovered and attempted another lunge, but Karamir grabbed the spear by the shaft, pulled him forward, and bashed him over the side of the head with the hammer.

The guard fell, but Karamir had already moved on to his next attack before the man had even hit the ground. He held out a hand, manipulating both the water in the wine and the air surrounding the jug, and then the pitcher was flying, striking a second guard in the side of the head.

The remaining three guards were taken aback by this display of supernatural power, but once again they readied their weapons and charged forward. They were not as synchronized as before; one moving much earlier than the other two. Karamir’s hammer became a sword, and he parried the first lunge, then turned aside the next two with one swing. The movements came almost naturally, without even thinking; largely due to the divine blessing placed upon him long ago.

Karamir’s foot came up, and caught one of the guards between the legs. The guard crumpled to the floor, before beginning to crawl backward, and the remaining two guards discarded their spears to draw swords. It was then that Laurien freed herself from the rubble and stood up. She came up from behind him and went to swipe at Karamir.

The clank of her armour betrayed her intentions, and because he couldn’t turn, Karamir had no choice but to rush forward at the two guards in front of him. He ducked under their swings, his sword became a dagger, a second knife materialized in his offhand, and then he lunged upward. Each blade found a throat, and as the two soldiers fell, Karamir went down with them.

He landed in a kneeling position, and for a moment could only stare in shock at the lives he had just taken. Their warm blood spewed onto his hands, while their eyes stared up at him, pleading. He pulled his blades free, rose to his feet, and then wheeled around to face his final opponent: Laurien herself.

Only, she wasn’t his final opponent.

A sword was driven through his back. One of the guards from before, who he had incapacitated instead of killed, had clearly recovered. Karamir fell to his knees, goggling in astonishment at the sharp, red, wet metal tip which protruded just to the right of his stomach. He would have flown away, but the guard behind him had stepped on his cloak. He looked up at Laurien, with hatred in his eyes.

Laurien’s helmet faded to reveal cruel smile. She laughed, ”Good work Ion. Phew, you had me worried there for a moment, Karamir. You’re a good fighter, I’ll give you that, but you messed up. Always… and I mean always… Go for the kill.” she said moving forward. ”I’ll make this quick.” she said, raising her sword.

”Why…” he choked. ”What are you trying to hide?”

”A secret.” she lulled.

”It’s not a secret, you stupid bitch,” he spat, as he returned the Multi-Weapon to its sheathe and dropped the Knife of Friendship on the floor. ”Abanoc’s probably watching us right now.”

”And where is Abanoc, Karamir? He’s letting you die.” she shook her head, ”You can’t trust a god, all they do is hurt you. But don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll avenge you.” she said with a laugh, before beginning to bring down her blade.

Ion, however, had chosen that exact moment to pull free the sword he had plunged through Karamir’s back. And in that moment, Karamir came up with a mad, desperate gamble. As the metal blade began to slide back, Karamir’s right hand closed around it, and it bit into his palm, but that did not stop him. With a scream he leaned forward, pulling Ion over him, and into the path of Laurien’s blade. In that same moment, the Knife of Friendship returned to his hand, and he thrust it into Laurien’s ankle.

The knife managed to cut through her armor at the gap, but only managed to go a quarter of the way through, just enough to make her growl as she slew Ion. She let go of her sword with Ion’s corpse and backed up, away from Karamir. She grunted in pain as she looked at him, and then smiled again. ”Have tricks do we? Well… How about I show you mine.” and with a flick of her wrist, the sensation of pricks and needles, then something shattering, went off in Karamir. She then outstretched her hand and a squelch sounded as her sword came back to her hand.

Karamir said nothing. He nudged Ion’s corpse off his back, and with nothing encumbering his cloak, he was finally free. Shakily, he levitated into the air, and then took off, swerving left and right as he accelerated, the city growing small behind him.

Through the pain, the adrenaline, and the haze of blood loss, he noticed a certain emptiness inside him, one that wasn’t there before. Was he missing something? The Knife of Friendship returned to his hand. No, it wasn’t that. He touched his sheathe with his unwounded hand. The Multi-Weapon was still there. What was gone?

Before he could find out, darkness overtook him.





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The Wuhdige Tribe

The Amazing Decade


The victory over the Elu and the Wogweh had meant everything. After Aloo and his warriors had come home triumphant, a simple call to arms was all it took to send the Wuhdige back on the warpath. Over the following two years after the Elu’s defeat and the Wogweh’s expulsion from the island, the Wuhdige dedicated themselves to claiming new land and new fishing grounds. Selka that had never before left the safety of Hohm cast themselves out into the woods and onto distant beaches to expand the tribe’s territory. Previously simple fruit and nut-picking camps were reinforced with better, sturdier burrows, and the ones closest to Hohm were reinforced with earth ditches and short palisades - some even had watchmen all year round. The whole northern tip of the island became populated as chieftain Aloo encouraged more and more selka to leave Hohm and establish new permanent camps by new fishing grounds.

As the second year approached, one of the northern camps, a small group of maybe ten selka, caught some wonderful-tasting fish: they were fat, juicy; they were slow and clumsy in the water. Catching them was pup’s play. The leader of this small camp, one named Hadama, decided to bring some back to Hohm. Immediately, it was a hit.

“Hadama, my dear friend,” said chief Aloo amiably to the grinning selka. “How ‘bout you bring us a share of this type of fish every now and then? How does once a month sound?”

“Well, if Lugo’s merciful enough to give us catches like that, I don’t see why not!” Hadama replied smilingly. “Though, if it’s alright wit’cha, chief, we need a couple’o things back at the camp.”

“Naturally, bro. What do you need?”

Hadama rubbed his hands hands together nervously. “W-well, if it ain’t too much to ask, chief, the trees up north are no good to chop with our tools - we could use a couple o’ axes and some firewood for the time while we chop.”

“Sounds good, bro,” Aloo declared and clapped Hadama on the shoulder. Duhwah came over with a long wooden pole, at the head of which was inserted a sharpened rock. The rock sat in a charred hole through the pole, making it sit fairly tightly. During the almost three years, Wuhdige knowledge of tools had crossed a threshold - a selka had one day been chopping at a tree with a sharpened rock as usual, when her spear had caught fire in the nearby pyre. Desperate to put it out, she had hammered at it with the rock in her hand, smashing it apart. Disheartened, she tried to reattach the tip, and found that a small split at the top of the spear pole where the fire had burned actually held the spear tip rather firmly. More experiments had been carried out after the news spread until the new stone axe had been invented. Now it, as well as the pickaxe and hammer, were the core tools of daily work.

Aloo placed the axe in Hadama’s hands and nodded. “Wood will be waiting for ya outside, bro - be safe on your way home.”
Hadama grinned at the axe and took the chieftain’s hand. “Thank ya, chief! Thank ya so much!” He then strolled out with a happy hum.

Duhwah gave Aloo a friendly punch on the shoulder. “You’re doing better since the Wogweh left, chief.”

“Sure am, Duh. Every day, more and more selka come to Hohm to tell us that they’ve found new fishing grounds or berry bushes. If this keeps up, then I dunno what we’ll do with all this food.”

“Sounds like a good time for you to get yourself a girl and a bunch’a pups, son,” Duhwah proposed. Aloo made a frown and rubbed his hands together.

“W-well, sure, but… Already?”

Duhwah smacked him proudly on the back and Aloo unleashed a dry cough. “‘Course, son! After all these years of fightin’ and hatin’, we all gotta remember our roots, go back to what really matters…” The champion gave the chieftain a heartfelt smile. “Family.”

Aloo scratched his temple. “I mean… Yeah, I suppose.”

Woi’e, who had been sitting by the fire cave fire, stood up and hammered her fist to her chest. “Family’s everything, chief. You’re on your sixteenth year. It’s a good age to have your first.”

Aloo kept his earlier frown. “It’s just… I’ve not really thought about anything like that since, since pa got carried off. But, I mean… We gotta carry on our traditions, right?”

Duhwah and Woi’e nodded approvingly. “That’s right chief. So you’ll do it, then?”

Aloo nodded. “Ye--”

“Hold on! Are you discussing my boy’s marriage without me?!” came a yell from the cave mouth. The three turned to look at a semi-smiling Selenu, who went over and hugged Aloo tightly. “N’aaaaw! My little boy’s gunna get a girl and then get some pups! Your pa would’a been so proud!”

“M-ma! Not in front of my--eck!”

Selenu squeezed extra hard and pecked him on the scalp before letting go. “I have just the girl for ya, my boy. You know Agono?”

“The Agoh girl?” Duhwah asked. Woi’e shook her head.

“Oh, nah. Nah, nah, nah - the chief’s not taking an Agoh. Nuh-uh, nn-nn.”

Selenu put her fists on her hits. “Well, what do you suggest, then, Woi’e?”

The shieldboss crossed her arms over her chest triumphantly. “Isn’t it obvious? He should take a Woiwoi for wife! My sister and niece are both ready to mingle!”

“Your sister has almost thirty years and your niece is ten!” Selenu protested. Woi’e shrugged.

“Okay, so there are -some- complications, but--”

“No!” Aloo interrupted. Both of them turned to him and Woi’e hung her head. Aloo gave her a sheepish pat on the arm. “Don’t wanna be mean, Woi’e, but, uh… Someone my age, aight?”

Woi’e gave a defeated nod and the chief turned to Selenu. “Any other, ma?”

The woman tugged at her chin thoughtfully. “Weeeell… How about Duhwah’s--”

“Taken,” Duhwah interrupted with a headshake.

“Well, then I got nothing,” Selenu sighed.

“Could take a Yupa?” Woi’e suggested.

“No one there in the right age. They’re either far past twenty or below ten,” Duhwah explained.

Aloo groaned. “Guess I gotta wait a bit, huh--”

“Chieftain!” A man stood in the door, and the four knew him as Yup, head of the Yupa. Their faces conveyed worry and the chieftain spoke, “What? What is it, Yup?”

The well-groomed man swallowed. “Waves in the water, chief! Someone’s coming!” Duhwah and Woi’e’s eyes widened and Aloo put on a furious scowl.

“Darn Wogwehs dunno when to quit. Spears! Clubs! Shields! The sand gunna be red for weeks after I’m done with ‘em!”

“But chief! Some have gotten onto the beach!” Yup added. Aloo drew a panicked breath.

“And you didn’t come before?! How many are dead?!” The chieftain stomped towards the cave mouth, grabbing his spear on the way. Yup grabbed him by the chubby fur around his neck and kept him from charging ahead.

“That’s just it, chief. They, they come in peace!”

Aloo froze and turned; the others stopped preparing for war. “What did you say, Yup?”

“They’re not here to fight, chief, they’re… They’re here to join us.” They all exchanged glances and Aloo shrugged himself lose. He squeezed Yup’s shoulder in gratitude and turned to the others.

“Keep weapons ready in case it’s a plot.” He then went out, spear in hand, but not elevated. The others followed suit.

Outside, the whole of Hohm had gathered to behold the arrival of almost fifty new strangers. They were not painted like the Wuhdige - instead, they wore animal fur cloaks that were soaked and heavy from the water and carried with them sacks fashioned from beast stomachs. Aloo furrowed his brow and turned to Duhwah for advice. The champion nodded for him to do whatever and Aloo stabbed the butt end of his spear into the sand and said, “You stand on Wuhdige lands, strangers! You are welcome so long as you got no mean things in mind!”

One of the selka in front, an old woman, approached the chieftain flanked by a younger man and woman. “Then we’ve arrived at the right place. Ye’re the chieftain, then?” the old lady asked.

“Right place? Who are you?” Aloo demanded. Duhwah motioned for him to calm down. It was an older lady he was talking to, after all. Aloo nodded. “Sorry. Yes, I’m the chief. Aloo is my name. Who are you?”

The old lady smiled and held her arms out to the side. The young adults flanking her took each arm and slowly, the old lady bowed down before Aloo. The chieftain took a step back and said, “What’s this?”

“Chief Aloo,” the old lady said warmly, “we’ve traveled a long, long way to find ye and the Wuhdige.”

“Why?” Woi’e asked suddenly. The old lady turned her smile to the enormous woman.

“Because ye saved my people.”

Aloo blinked. “W-we did? We don’t even know you!”

The old lady chuckled. “No, ye probably wouldn’t. Our tribe isn’t as big as yers. These are all that’s left. We are the Patum, once of the holy land of Patumkam, and I am their leader, Toppoma. We used to have a great big plot - bigger than we could ever fill, but oh, did we try. We became many, but not enough. Didn’t take long for the Wogweh to snuff us out.”

“Wait, the Wogweh? You’ve met the Wogweh?”

“Oh, yeah,” Toppoma confirmed. “Fifty years ago, families kept coming to the chief’s, my father’s, home, telling of a gang of beasts making havoc on the fringes. So my father took his warriors and went out. No one came back.” She shook her head. “It didn’t take long after that before they came to our village. They killed most of our men and took most of our pups and women as prisoners. We were taken to Dun-ar-Wog where they did… Real mean things.”

The listeners’ faces paled. Aloo pressed his lips together and closed his eyes in rage. “The elders say they were so few. How did they get you all?”

“Against a hundred unarmed men, ten with spears and plans will win,” Toppoma mumbled forebodingly. “We had nothing to defend us with. Our attacks had no plans or system. We were like fish to them - ready for catching…”

Duhwah nodded. “We… We have met them on the field before. Their fightin’ plans are pretty smart.”

Toppoma nodded. “And even without a plan, they are disciplined and well-trained. We were taken instantly almost…” There was a pause before the old lady pointed a quivering, boney finger at Aloo’s face. The chieftain took a half-step back. “But then!” the old lady exclaimed and her helpers thought she was going to keel forward. “But then, we got news there in the slave pits of Dun-ar-Wog! A Wogweh ally, the Elu, had been defeated by a far off tribe called the Wuhdige, and among them was a dangerous, mighty warrior - Aloo, their chief!” Aloo swallowed as more of the Patum gathered around him with awe in their eyes.

“M-me, Toppoma?”

“That’s right!” the old lady said in a particularly strained voice and coughed dryly. “That’s right, son. The news changed it all. The Wogweh had never lost control of anywhere before. Even our holy Patumkam is under their control still. Nowhere had their dominance been questioned - until they came here, to yer island!”

Woi’e raised a hand and said, “Toppoma, our island is very big! We don’t even control half of it yet and--”

“Oh, but you don’t understand, girl,” the old lady cackled. “It was the victory, the victory that did it all! It gave us hope! It even scared the Wogweh for a time - enough time for them to look away when we escaped!” She clapped her boney hands together and the sound they made was painful to listen to. “We came to ye as fast as we could. Our holy Patumkam is still under Wogweh control, but, but we want to fight for it. Fight as ye did, Wuhdige.”

Aloo was at a loss for words. Whenever he tried to formulate sentences, they seemed to melt apart in his mouth. The Patum around him giggled at his dumbstruck expression and Toppoma reached out to squeeze his hand. “Heheheh, was it a bit much, maybe?”

Selenu stepped forward a bit. “We just got in a good deal of fish, actually, so we can probably feed y’all. But y’all gotta dig your own burrows.”

“Burrows?” the old lady asked herself and the Patum looked around on the beach to realise that the Wuhdige indeed slept in deep holes in the sand and dirt roofed with sticks, dirt and leaves. Their reactions ranged everywhere from giggles and sighs. Toppoma shook her head. “No, no need for that. We can make longhouses from the trees up ahead. Should do fine.”

“Longhouses?” Duhwah asked with a scratch of the head. The surrounding Wuhdige glanced at one another in confusion.

“That’s right!” said the young male helping Toppoma. “It’s a long hut that--ow!”

Toppoma shook the hand she had just slapped him with. “Shush when grandma’s talking, Pilomo! But yeah, it’s a long hut that houses many families in it - think our biggest back when I was a girl had five whole families in it.”

The Wuhdige gasped at the concept. “Wait, you put five families in a room that is not a cave?” Woi’e blurted out. “How?!”

“Why, by building it big,” said the old lady with a toothless grin, then cocked her head to the side a little. “Ye do built things, right?”

“W-we make igloos,” Selenu offered.

“Igloo? What’s that?” replied the old lady.

“It’s a house of snow,” said Aloo.

“Only really good for the winters then, isn’t it?” the old lady replied with pursed lips. “Tell ye what - ye let us stay, and we’ll make sure ye don’t have to sleep in burrows anymore. Sounds like a plan?”

Aloo looked to the others. They nodded with broad smiles. As did the other Wuhdige. Aloo turned back to Toppoma with a grin that threatened to carve his head in half. “Then you are welcome on our island!”

There was a resounding cheer and the old lady shuffled over to embrace Aloo amiably. In the following weeks, it didn’t take long for the Patum to get started. They were already very familiar with the tools used by the Wuhdige, and using Wuhdige paint, the Patum builders drew up schematics and materials on the walls for the selka to gather. With stone-bladed axes, the selka workers, now reinforced by a third of its previous numbers, began turning the woods into longhouses around Home Cave. The cave itself was upgraded with a wooden roof around the opening, making it for the first time possible for a subset of every Wuhdige family to sleep ‘within’ the cave. As winters came, some kept to the igloo tradition while others found that the longhouses worked just as well in snow as in rain, heliopolis or wind. To keep the larger longhouses extra warm during the winters, the roofs were insulated with thatch and dirt - the sand floor was covered in the furs of boars, bears, wolves and other beasts the increasingly bold selka hunters tracked down. In three years, the whole of Hohm had gone from holes in the ground scattered across a great beach to a small number of longhouses that together housed two whole tribes. Some became storage houses, and the Wuhdige quickly found that fruits, vegetables, legumes and dried fish kept much longer when not stored in burrows. Furthermore, at the request of old Toppoma, a distance away there was built a hut to function as a temple to their god, Patumkam-patum. There, the Patum went to pray every full moon, and while many Wuhdige found their traditions odd at first, what with an extreme respect for the elderly regardless of familial bonds and an emphasis on clothing, the two tribes seemed to blend quite well. As time went on, intermarriages took place, and Aloo himself ended up marrying the granddaughter of Toppoma, Kama. It was a joyous time, and Aloo found a peace of mind that he only truly had felt back when his family was whole. When Toppoma passed on four years after their arrival, her grandson Pilomo became the chieftain of the Patum, and lead them according to Aloo’s wishes. The two got along splendidly, and often competed in games or together in tag teams against others. It didn’t take long for Kama to bear children, and she and Aloo were soon blessed with triplets.

Then, the same year that Toppoma had passed, another group of Selka came to the shore. The last six years had been kind to the Wuhdige - fish had been plentiful, as had the fruits, nuts and vegetables of the woods. However, Aloo, Duhwah and Woi’e knew that if these came with the same intentions as the Patum once had, they would have to expand their reach even beyond.

Another twenty, these selka numbered. The Wuhdige and Patum numbered all in all nearly two hundred. To take them in would not only necessitate more houses, but also greater prospection into fishing grounds and fruit trees. Aloo, nowadays donning the fur cloak of his wife’s culture, stepped out of his cave with his bone spear in hand. Flanked he was by Duhwah, Woi’e, Pilomo and Selenu. The newcomers were dressed much in the same way as the Wuhdige once had - loincloths of fur without much else. However, instead of spears, most of them had odd curved sticks where the tips were held together by one strained string. On their hips, many of them had long wicker pipes, almost, filled with more sticks. Most interesting, perhaps, was that a number of the newcomers remained at the beach while a subset approached the chieftain. Those that remained on the beach seemed to be tending to some animals, and upon closer inspection, the Wuhdige noticed that they were seals.

Aloo eyed the barking seals with a mixture of a smile and a frown on his face. He had of course seen a multitude of seals in his admittedly short life, but they were competition in the sea - friendly competition, of course. Killing seals felt very wrong, after all - it was almost like killing a distant cousin. His eyes turned away from the seals for a moment to look upon the approachers. It was a giant of a selka, nearly every fiber boasting strength and might. Across his chest a tight string dug into his skin, connected as it was to a mighty branch on his back. He was flanked by two smaller females, though neither of these could truly be considered small - one of them rivaled the size of Woi’e, and Aloo could tell from her expression that she was not happy about it. The giant gave Aloo a deep bow and asked, “Are you Aloo, chieftain of the Wuhdige tribe?”

Aloo tried his best to appear impartial to the giant’s size, his every instinct telling him to at least consider flight. “I am, good stranger, and who’s you?”

The giant straightened himself up and hammered his chest proudly. “I am Kameyameya, chieftain of the Byuto tribe. We have traveled far, and further than far, in search of the great warrior Aloo - the man they say took down six greater men armed with spears while he himself was unarmed!”

Aloo gulped. “W-well, to be fair, Duhwah helped me.” He thumbed over to his champion, who grinned.

“Hardly!” Duhwah protested. “He’s bein’ modest, friends! Aloo’s a proper wrestler and better warrior!” Aloo shrunk a little while his skin reddened. Kameyameya thundered a roaring laughter, as did the women flanking him.

“Hah! No need to be shy, young chieftain! Greatness should be boasted about, not hidden! I myself have taken a hundred skulls - a hundred, I say! How many have you taken?”

“Wait, skulls?” Aloo asked. Kameyameya nodded.

“‘Course, chief. Us Byuto are descendants of the war god Byuto! Glory, they promise, glory numbered in collected skulls and wives!”

Pilomo frowned. “I take it it’s selka skulls you collect?” To their surprise, Kameyameya shook his head.

“No, no, not just! Sure, Byuto in their rage may crave some selka skulls every now and then, but to Byuto, survival is also a war! We wage war against death!”

“Against death!” the women behind him echoed proudly. Aloo found himself smiling a little.

“So of these hundred skulls, many’s animal skulls?”

Kameyameya pointed to a wolf-skull on a think sinew string around his neck. “That’s right, chief! Above all, us Byuto stalk the woods and seas in search of prey so we can beat back that nasty death for another week! Against death, HOO-HAH!”

“HOO-HAH!” the women echoed. Aloo clapped excitedly along and thundered his own “hoo-hah!” Woi’e lowered her brows suspiciously.

“Did you just come here to join our chieftain because he’s a great warrior?” she asked and Kameyameya’s beaming grin faded. His eyes darkened and he shook his head.

“No… No, as much as I wish that was the case, friends.” He gestured down to the beach. “You see how few we are. In truth, we used to be many more - lots of strong lads and pretty women. But… There’s a mean, mean foe on the other side of the strait - one that even our Byuto blood can’t help us best.”

Pilomo drew a shivering breath and nodded. “The Wogweh, correct?”
Kameyameya nodded. “We’ve faced beasts taller than trees and fish larger than a selka, but never have we faced someone with a mind like Roganweh. I remember it clearly, the day, that fateful day,” he drew a quick breath, “we were outside. Camp was just being packed up. To hide from the Wogweh raiders earlier, we had taken refuge deep in the woods. I… I still don’t know how they did it. Our bows gives us advantage far away, but they somehow snuck up on us through bushes and leaves and broken branches. We were beaten in a heartbeat. Those that made it off managed to get to the sea where our seals were waiting for us. We had heard rumours of your victory against them for a long time, son. We knew there was hope across the strait.

So we came.”

Aloo felt the almost decade old hatred resurface. A black bile of rage boiled in his belly. “How do they do it? How does such a small tribe manage to kill so many? Ruin so much?”

“It’s the will of Kirron, they say,” one of the ladies behind Kameyameya offered. The giant stepped to the side and gestured to the both of them.

“Oh, right - these are my wives, Oklahoma and Tutonkha. Oklahoma used to be a Wogweh slave until we broke her out of the camp.”

Selenu frowned. “Wives?”

Kameyameya nodded. “Byuto encourages the strong to take as many mates as they can! The pack forms around the strongest, and the strongest breed stronger!”

“Can’t argue with that,” Duhwah agreed and Selenu shot him a disappointed frown.

Tutonkha thumbed over her shoulder. “Gopapa has three husbands. She’s over there on the beach.” Selenu traced her thumb to see another monster of a selka down on the beach as expected. A scarred female towered over the others, even as she knelt to feed an adorable white seal pup a small piece of fish. Selenu swallowed nervously.

“When you say the will of Killon,” Aloo said to get the conversation back on track, “what do you mean?”

Oklahoma sighed and shook her head. “They’re blood-priests, the lot of them. Slaves have three fates in Dun-ar-Wog: either die in the fighting pits to please Kirron; work until death; or just become a blood sacrifice directly to Him. Arganweh, their chieftain, claims to be an oracle of Kirron, and he keeps legions of slave soldiers loyal with fear.”

Aloo shook his head in disbelief. “How--... How can one selka keep control of so many? Can’t they just take him down?”

Oklahoma shook her head dejectedly and the two others hung their heads in defeat. “He has Kirron on his side. One day, there was a revolt against him. Ten slaves attacked the chieftain’s stronghold and broke inside. However, no one came out. According to the rumours, they were burned alive by Kirron’s wrath.”

“B-burned alive?” Pilomo barely dared to utter. Oklahoma nodded.

“They say the chieftain called for Kirron’s aid and shot a blast of fire out of his bare hands. The rebels were turned to ash that same moment. The next morning, Roganweh, his brother,” Oklahoma noted Aloo’s darkened expression, “who it looks like you’ve met… Well, he came to the slave pits the next day and cast their ashes over us, saying that such was the price for rebellion.”

The Wuhdige exchanged worried glances. “O-out of his bare hands, how?!” Duhwah exclaimed. Oklahoma sighed.

“It’s the will of Kirron,” she repeated. “That’s what kept them all in line.”

Aloo gave the three an inquisitive look. “Well, if they have the Red Boy on their side, what gives you hope? Why do y’all come here where they could attack you?”

Kameyameya reached out to squeeze Aloo’s shoulder. “Because you give us hope, son. All rebellion has ended the same way - those that have tried to defend their lands have been destroyed by Roganweh’s battleplans; those that have rebelled against Arganweh in their camps have been burned to crisps. But you, your tribe has withstood an invasion and shown that there are flaws in their plans.” The giant lowered himself to one knee - as did his wives. “We want to help. We want Byuto’s bone debt to be paid - for every Byuto skull the Wogweh have claimed, so shall we claim Wogweh skulls. We won’t be a hassle to ya, son - we bring with us our bows, seals and skills - all to be shared in exchange for a place in your tribe.”

Aloo looked over at the group in the distance again and then back at Kameyameya. “Well, alright, then. Pilomo.” Pilomo nodded and Aloo said, “let us build another longhouse, this one not too far from Home Cave. Made it able to house all twenty of the Byuto.”

“Yes, chieftain,” Pilomo said and walked off. Aloo looked up at the grinning face of the giant and held out his hand.

“I hope your skill with that bow is as good as your skill with words,” he said and the giant thundered another laugh, squeezing the chieftain’s hand nearly until the bones popped.

“How about I give you some lessons so you can be as good as me, huh?”

So it was that the Byuto joined the Wuhdige and the Patum. Integration was a little rough at first: Kameyameya and Gopapa made frequent attempts to woo Wuhdige and Patum males and females, and their enormous frames made the wrestling tournaments rather one sides much to Duhwah, Woi’e and Aloo’s despair. However, months became years, and as four years had passed, the three tribes had found the balances between their cultures: The Wuhdige moved their sacrifice to Lugo if it fell on a Patum prayer day; the Byuto kept their polygamous and polyandrous relationship closed off within their own tribe; and the Patum learned not to comment on the Wuhdige’s tradition for living in igloos in the winter. Both the Byuto and the Wuhdige learned to respect Patum elders and to make fur cloaks; the Wuhdige and the Patum began to collect animal skulls to please the Byuto; and both the Byuto and the Patum engaged in Wuhdige games and learned to put great emphasis on family.

The Byuto seals became a powerful tool in fishing, the seals functioning as fetchers and hunters that dove much deeper than the selka. Their bows became essential in hunting, and their wicker quivers opened to the Wuhdige a whole new world of wicker craftsmanship. The larders and drying racks grew fuller than ever, and with the additions of Byuto hunted meats, the selka in Hohm ate like never before. Hohm expanded and new hunting camps and the like were founded around the island.

Aloo thought back to the faithful victory against the Elu ten years ago. Thanks to that fateful night, their tribe had tripled in size in ten years; they were harvesting more food than ever before; and with Patum houses and Byuto bows, they became a civilisation to be reckoned with.

The chieftain swore to himself that, for as long as he lived, he would see to it that the Wuhdige, Byuto and Patum could achieve their retribution against the Wogweh, and one day live in peace from the great shadow stretching from the mainland.

For now, though, there was peace to be had - a prosperous future of love and family, just like the last ten years.





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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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Doron





Doron squirmed in the hug, desperately trying to escape his Mother’s grasp. “Mooooom! Lemme go already!”

”Let me just hold you one more minute.” came Rowan’s stern voice. He wiggled some more in her arms and then went limp as he let himself get kissed by his mother. He groaned and his mom finally let him go. Doron then bolted to the door, Rowan’s voice calling out, ”Be home for supper!” as the door closed behind him.

He ran down the steps with a grin on his face, and then headed towards the Vallamir houses. There was little time to waste after all! Engil would be waiting for him by now. And she’d give him grief for being late. With that in mind, he sped up.

He made it to their meeting spot, a lone tree overlooking the Mir houses. He did not see Engil anywhere, however. And he realized he beat her for once! Now it was his turn to scare her for once. He went over to the tree and hid behind it, peering out and down the dirt road to see if she was coming.

Leaves rustled and wood creaked behind him, and Doron turned to find himself face to face with an upside-down terrifying wooden face!

“Boo!”

Doron’s eyes went wide as he screamed and fell backwards.

“Hehehehe!” Laughed the monstrous being, until it lifted one of its hanging arms up to its face and lifted the… Mask, out of the way. A smirking, self-satisfied face was behind the wooden mask, baring her sharp fangs to the world and without the mask’s band to keep it in place, her shoulder-length jet black hair now hung limply. It was Engil, “That was a good one! Sis carved this yesterday and I knew I had to use it on you!” She said with a last giggle before hoisting herself up onto the low branch she’d been hiding on and looking down at Doron like a cat looking at its prey.

He felt his face grow hot, and he scowled at Engil. “Engil! Y-You didn’t scare me! I was just surprised is all. So stop laughing!” he said, getting up and dusting off his shorts.

“Pfft, sure,” Engil said with a roll of her eyes, “C’mon, you gotta admit I got you at least a little bit! Last time you screamed like that we had massive bugs chasing us. I swear I thought you were a girl for a moment and you had been lying to us the whole time!”

“I’m not a girl! Those bugs were just really big! I don’t like big bugs!” Doron protested, crossing his arms. “You’re one to talk anyways! You can’t even cross a stream without making a big fuss and that one time you fell in, you screamed like a baby!”

“H-hey!” Engil perked up and blushed, “The water was just really c-cold, okay! I-I wasn’t scared or anything, I’m not a baby, you baby!” Engil looked away and pouted, but after a while she chuckled. “So what you wanna do today Doron?”

Doron stared at the ground and kicked a stone before saying, “I dunno… Explore I guess?”

“All done! I found this awesome looking cave yesterday while you were helping with the farming. It’s got these shiny rocks inside so you can see where you’re going. Wanna go?”

He looked up with a giddy grin and shook his head up and down really fast. “Yeah! Where did you find it?” he asked excitedly.

Engil smirked again and swiftly jumped down from her perch, letting out a little gasp upon impact, “Near the place we got jumped by the insects. Egwyn wanted some insect shells for one of her thingies and I thought I’d find em there.”

Doron’s face instantly went blank and he gulped. “H-How near?” he said, standing up straighter.

Engil touched her chin and looked up in thought, “Ummm, bout a minute away walking? Scared?”

“N-No! I just… Just wanted to know! Come on, lead the way!” He said with anxiety in his voice.

“Okay, no walking though!” Engil said and took off running into the trees, showing off her agility and speed like she usually did.

Doron groaned as he took off after her. Engil was much faster than him, and she always won in a race. If only he could fly! “Hey wait up!” he called after her.

Of course, her way of waiting for him was just slowing down enough to remain at the edge of his senses so he could follow. “You’re taller than me, use your long legs to run faster you dork!” Her voice echoed through the forest.

"I'm not that much taller Engil!" Doron complained as he ran after her.

A few moments later, after a few twists and turns were taken, Doron broke out into a tiny clearing and saw Engil bouncing on the spot in front of the entrance to a deep, dark cave. She held her usual smirk as she turned to face Doron, “Okay! This is the cave. I thiiink it may be the home of the insects, y’know.” Engil said, her face suddenly turning serious and somber, “We might find huge ones, maybe the size of Old Man Rim. No scaredy geckos allowed.”

Doron cautiously approached, staring at the cave entrance before gulping. "Old Man Rim?" He said nervously. He looked up at Engil, his eyes wide. But there was something in her smirk that made his blood boil. She always thought of him as scared a baby, but it was time to show her who the real scaredy cat was! The boy stood up a little straighter, puffing out his chest and said sternly, "I'm not scared, lead the way."

“Good, now get glowy and lead the way! Last time I stumbled and scraped my elbow.” Engil said pridefully, “We should see some glowy mush-rooms in a bit.” And with that, she stepped aside and motioned toward the dark cave.

Doron hesitated slightly, before leading the way. Inside his soft glowing body illuminated the cave slightly, but did not go so far. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust and he looked behind to see if Engil was there and she was, jumping over a small depression in the ground and looking up to Doron with a chuckle. “Handy, I would like to glow too.”

“Yeah… It’s okay.” Doron muttered, looking forward. He thought he heard something skitter deeper in and his heart began to beat faster. “S-So how far in?”

“Just about… Now!” As soon as the word left her mouth, Doron’s soft glow illuminated a split in the cave, and deeper into that split there was a blue, neon glow in the rough shape of a cone. “There! See it? It’s one of the mushrooms!” Engil asked, excited.

Doron looked at it, then to Engil and smirked. He then traveled down the Split to get a closer look at it. “Why does it glow?” he asked, staring at it intently.

It was a weird thing. Its colors were nothing at all like a normal mushroom, and the neon patterns on it seemed to shift slightly. Engil pursed her lips and took a sniff of it, “I dunno, it smells like soil though. There were more last time I came around, too.”

“I wonder where the others are.” he mused, reaching out to touch it.

ZAP!

There was a bright light like that of a tiny lighting strike that lit up the room. “Ow!” Doron shouted, pulling away his hand as he shook it back and forth.

“What was that?! That was cool!” Engil asked with starry eyes, then immediately touched the mushroom as well.

ZAP!

“Oow!!” She immediately flinched away and looked at her hand.

“It shocked us!” Doron gasped. “That’s so cool.”

“But-” Engil made a confused face and inspected her palm closely, “My hand’s not red or anything. It doesn’t even hurt anymore? Yours?”

Doron looked at his hand, but found nothing to indicate he was shocked. “I don’t see anything. Doesn’t hurt either. That’s so weird.” he said, looking back at the mushroom. Tentatively, he reached out for the mushroom again, but instead of touching the cap, he went for the stalk, and to his surprise, it didn’t shock him. He pulled it out of the wall and then a wicked idea crossed his mind. He touched the cap to Engil.

ZAP!

A loud shriek and an illuminated cavernous room later, Engil was nursing her right shoulder and pouting at Doron, who was laughing hysterically. “Okay, my turn now, dork.”

Doron calmed down and looked at Engil as a childish grin crossed his face. “If you want it, then come get it.”

Slowly, Engil’s pout turned into her smirk, in looking predatory in the dimly lit room, her fangs and wild eyes glinting in the dark. “I will! HYAH!” She gasped as she suddenly jumped at Doron, but yelped and retreated after Doron held out the shroom again, touching her. The boy laughed again and said, “You’ll have to try better than that Engil!”

Engil frowned and stared at him, but then looked at the ceiling above Doron and nearly gagged, “.. L-Look up, Doron. I think your friends are preparing to cuddle you.”

“Ha! You can’t fool me so easily Engil! You’re trying to get me to lower my guard. It ain’t going to happen!” he boisted proudly.

Engil’s gaze was focused on the ceiling, and her eyes widened as a sound akin to… Skittering, started echoing throughout the cavern, coming from right above the two kids. “T-They’re waking up. It’s so many of them… Doron, I think I know what happened to the other mushrooms…”

Doron’s eyes went wide as he followed Engil’s gaze. Above them, climbing across the ceiling were several large bugs. Doron opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. He was petrified, he couldn’t move, and the bugs were coming down the wall, skittering as they did with their multiple legs and clanking pincers.

“R-...” Engil took a step back, and then she smirked nervously, sweat falling profusely along her face, “Run…” Her voice was shaky.

And she ran, grabbing Doron’s wrist to drag him with her.

As if pulled out of a trance, Doron finally screamed as he ran alongside Engil. Through the cave they went, the skittering growing closer and closer until the light of the cave entrance shined through. Doron dared not look back. So close he was, that he tripped and fell, the mushroom landing in front of him. ‘Engil!” he shouted pleadingly, as the clanking got closer.

The girl slowed to a stop almost instantly and turned to help her friend, grabbing his hand and the mushroom.

ZAAAAAP!

She whimpered and bit her lip hard, tearing up but keeping a hold of the fungus. She pulled Doron to his feet and at that point screamed as a shadow skittered up against her feet, “EW, EW! COME OON!” She yelled and pulled on Doron’s wrist once more, almost out of the cave.

And the two flew out of the cave entrance, but they did not stop there and kept running as the skittering became but a distant, bad memory. Eventually they made it to a small clearing, underneath the shade of a jungle tree, Doron collapsed on his back, panting and shaking. Through his quick breaths he managed to say, “T-Thank… Y-You.”

Engil kept silent and dropped the mushroom she’d been holding in her left hand. It was dim and had stopped zapping her long ago. She took a long look at her hand and let out a small laugh, “I-It’s red now.”

Doron sat up and looked at her hand. Indeed it was red and he felt really bad. “D-Does it hurt?”

She teared up and sniffled, then smirked and wiped at her eyes, “N-No, I’m okay. I-I guess we both scream like girls when seeing icky insects. I actually am a girl though, hehe.”

Doron groaned, rolling his eyes. The boy then stood up and went over to Engil and looked over her hand some more. “You’re a bad liar, Engi.” he grabbed her good hand with his own, and pulled her without waiting. “When I… When I got attacked by fire once, Mom told me that water can soothe the pain, or something. Come on.”

After a few moments of Doron leading Engil through the foliage, she began sniffling quietly out of his sight. “I-I think I hate insects now.”

“You and me both. Those were too big, way too big. They give me the shivers.” Doron said, looking away from Engil as she sniffled. Eventually they made it to a small stream, the trickling water sounding nice as Doron went to his knees next to it. He let go of Engil and put his hands in and then looked up at her and said, “This feels great. I know… I know you don’t like water but, it will help Engi.”

Engil looked away from Doron and sat on her knees next to the stream, slowly dipping her burned hand in the current while keeping her other firmly on dry ground. A while later, she sighed in relief. “It helps a little.”

There was silence between the two for a long time as they rested by the stream. Finally Doron said, "I'm… Sorry for shocking you."

Engil chuckled, “It’s ok, I was gonna do the same anyway. Hey, we should grab the mushroom and zap those big idiots back in town. You know, the ones that took the thing to catch fishes that Egwyn made last week?”

“Yeah! That’ll teach ‘em to steal things. Does it still shock?” Doron asked.

“Uuum, I think we might need to give it some time to recharge.”

“O-Oh yeah… Maybe we should take it Egwyn? She might know more about it.” Doron asked, looking at Engil.

“Yeah! Egwyn’s a genius, she’ll know how to make its zaps strong enough!” Engil puffed out her chest and nodded, pulling out her hand out of the water and jumping up to her feet, “Let’s go!”

“Okay!” Doron said excitedly, as he scampered to his feet. The two then ran through the jungle, mushroom in hand, as they went back to Mir town.

Reaper Woes





Ten Years Before the Timeskip

The rocks that covered the cave entrance, turned to dust as easily as a thought. Abraxas loomed over the bones of reaperspawn. It seemed in their attempt to remove the rocks, they created another cave-in that blocked their entrance entirely. Pitiful.

The Avatar flew down the entrance, coming face to face with old, wasted sacs, and the dead. Eventually he reached the Mother’s chamber, to find the beasts hibernating. There were thousands left still, sleeping like a pack of wolves. With a clap of his hand, Ansara began to wake. Her bulk lifted off from the floor, sending reaperspawn falling. She raised her head and bowed when she saw Abraxas.

The avatar wasted no time in chastising the beast. ”You have been sleeping for a long time. Years upon years of wasted potential. But I have come to free you. Ansara, you have ten years to create the largest army of Reaperspawn this continent shall ever know. When the stars begin to fall, unleash them upon this world. But be wary, to the west is a civilization of mortals, led by a demigod. Do not go there, until the time is right. Failure… Is not an option.” he said, zapping her with lightning.

The Queen faltered and growled, but Abraxas was gone and she had work to do.




Days after the Battle with Ohannamauoi

He found Azadine sulking in anger within her chamber. The Reaper mother was tending to her wounds, and bitter about the battle. Abraxas did not care about this however, he had other things to command of her.

He appeared before the Mother, the Reaperspawn growing restless as they saw a potential target. The Mother did not bow her head this time but watched with a hateful stare. ”You have impressed me with your spawn, Azadine. Soon, you will unleash the entirety of your armies and head out. I care not for the crab or his ilk, push past them and destroy everything. I shall bless your spawn with powers. When the stars fall, that is when you will attack.” Like before, Abraxas zapped Azadine, sending the Mother into a rage, but when she looked for the culprit, he was gone.

Around her, the spawn began to channel scarlet lightning around their bodies.

It was almost time.

Heaven’s Rise





Ten Years Before the Timeskip

He found the Ihokhurs squabbling in the filth of slaves. Their crude monuments were a testament to little imagination. This would not do. When he landed, the ground coursed with scarlet lightning, hitting every single thing that wasn’t an Ihokhur. All of the Selka slaves and Ihokhetlani died in a heap of ash. This caused outrage, and the one known as Kalani broke from his chair and came down to face Abraxas with a roar like a mountain.

The Avatar’s hollow laugh rang out as the giant fell upon him. He dodged the pitiful attack, and with one swipe, Abraxas sent him tumbling to the ground.

”Kalani, you have wasted your time building crude things. For what?” the Avatar asked in a cruel tone.

”Because I can! I can do anything I want!” the Desolate form roared, beginning to stand up.

Abraxas pushed him over again and the ground shook, ”No more of this foolery or I will kill you.”

Kalani tilted his head to the side, and growled but said nothing more. Abraxas then looked around to see a handful of Ihokhurs staring. ”I, Abraxas, the Avatar of Orvus, have a task for you. No more slavery, no more monument building, only the creation of an army. In ten years, I want hundreds of you and more of your kind.” he said, pointing at Kalani.

”That’s not possible! We lack the materials.” Kalani said, as the other Ihokhurs nodded in agreement.

Abraxas flared his form and growled deeply. ”I am an avatar! I shall give you everything you need, and all I ask in return, is progress.”

”Even if you can get us our materials… Why are we building an army for you.” Kalani sneered.

Abraxas lashed out and struck Kalani, embedding him into the ground. His aura began to bite away at the orvium as he loomed over them. ”You will do as told, or you will all die. In ten years, when the stars begin to fall, you will march south and destroy everything in your path. Everything. That is your purpose.”

And just like that Abraxas lifted off into the night, leaving the Ihokhurs and Kalani alone. It did not take long however, to see their materials arriving. Huge chunks of lunar fall hit nearby with ear shattering impacts. They left sizeable craters, catching the nearby vegetation on fire. The chunks were far larger than any they had seen before and with little else to do, the dark stonemen began their terrible work.

They were making good headway when Abraxas returned a week later, carrying with him a giant ball of Orvium. Laurien had forbid him from harming anyone upon the Eye, but she said nothing about going there. On a dark night, unknown to any that lived there, he retrieved the Orvium, and now, he gave it to the Ihokhurs. More Desolate forms would come, and when the time was right, everything would die.

Endgame





The Emptiness of Veradax was hauntingly beautiful. It was one of the only things that Abraxas found even somewhat desirable. And it was left to decay and rot. Many things littered its surface now. Old run down shacks, animals, plants, even people- All had taken the form of starry ones. They were as empty as the sphere. And now was the time to spread his Sphere across the face of creation itself. It was always the plan, and there was no time to waste, for sooner or later, he knew someone would come. Laurien was a fool if she actually thought he could keep her involvement a secret, in fact, she was the reason everything to come was possible.

He landed before the Mar Tree, with the comatose Orvus still dripping ichor. Power. He drew close to the tree and gripped Orvus’ face within his hands. ”Everything is complete. I will do what you could not and usher in a new age upon Galbar. One of destruction.” his hollow laugh rang out. ”And you, Orvus, shall be the catalyst. The beauty you turned your back on, shall consume you and at last, I will take the nothingness for myself.”

The avatar pulled away from the tree and grabbed two long branches. He then activated the tree, it’s glorious humming awakening to bring harm to the world. This time however, the Mar tree would not take an age to work. This time, it had a divine spark.

Scarlet lightning began to arc from the tree to Orvus, jostling the god awake. He looked around groggily before his eyes fell upon Abraxas and narrowed. He tried to pull himself free but it was no use. He began to speak but it was too late, the lightning erupted all over, sending the humming into a deep reverberation. A god screamed and an avatar laughed.

The Mar Tree began to grow it’s fruit tenfold, and then send them off into the sky, over and over again. The white motes would fill the skies unlike never before and at long last, when the time was right, the Mar Plague was unleashed upon Galbar through the Gateway.

Abraxas then left Orvus in his agony and went to the side of the moon that was broken. There he entered into the debris field and his perversion took root. Great swathes of lunar chunks began to drift away from its orbit and began on a path towards Galbar. Thousands of chunks, most would burn in the atmosphere, but the sheer amount meant many would impact the land, and even the largest ones began to move, slowly but surely. The Planet would be cleansed of all life, in sheer and utter agony. It would not go quietly into the night.




Down upon Galbar, at the gateway itself, the Gatelord flew off. The sheer flow of motes would make any attacker think twice about venturing to Veradax, and those motes went in every direction. The Gatelord had grown restless under Orvus’ control, but now, now it was free and Abraxas willed it to destroy. It flew towards Kalgrun.

The Reaper Mothers unleashed their swarms upon their lands. Like army ants, the Reaperspawn attacked everything and everyone they came across. Shooting lightning from their domes. They would leave a vast swath of destruction. Half of Ansara’s brood shot off towards the Xishan Plains, towards the city of the White Ape. Azadine left with her considerable armies, once more, this time however, the crab would not slow them down.

At the sight of falling stars, Kalani and the Ihokhurs began to move out, not quite at over a hundred ihokhurs, but the tall forms were dangerous as ever. Each one sporting great crude weapons, trees with rock spikes or boulders. The Desolate forms were fewer then the Ihokhurs, but far deadlier in comparison. They all broke from each other, in large groups, heading off towards the coast, down near the Selka lands.

The Age of Desolation, had begun.



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Hidden 21 days ago 20 days ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Can something that has been forgotten remember itself?
What if it’s whole existence depended on another?
Take for example the idea of memory of a lost loved one.
“They live on through our memory of them,”
What of theirs?


Time had passed, there had not been a stirring for quite enough of that time and contentment filled That One. It had turned its back upon the world that the Architect had forced it into, choosing to dwell upon the past and watch the decline of that host that it had burrowed itself into. It knew not what had caused this decline, but it mattered little since it was but mere entertainment at that point.

Until it was not.

Vakk, as of late, had found itself growing quite bored of watching the amnesiated Eurysthenes bumble around for a reason it continually cared little for. It had grown so careless of Eurysthenes, that being which had done much good for the well-being of That One while the other half simply degraded. Vakk had been able to abide by it, even tolerate some of the pointless actions, but it had been left a sour taste after the Infinite Maze had turned against it. The event itself meant nothing, no.

The death of many of the Aroiox had brought back a modicum of anger that Vakk had transferred to the people. Even then, That One had been silent. It had not spoken for quite some time. It had not created for even longer, the power of gods being submitted to idlism through centuries and everything blended together as time seemed to pass quick enough to where Vakk could not identify when a specific event happened, but he knew the event had happened. Even then, That One had been silent.

”Eurysthenes, I believe it is time for me to leave you.”

The words from That One were heavy, almost uncharacteristically hesitant as it finally found its voice after a long silence.

”Who?”

”Y-you.”

”No, you.” something of the tone held the small amount of familiarity the two had garnered in the past just out of reach of Vakk. Perhaps it was the straightforwardness, perhaps the dissociated timbre. Or, perhaps, the sounds of two ideals speaking in chorus.

”I seek not to play your games, Eurysthenes. I know you have forgotten much, but surely you could not have forgotten about something that has been a part of you for a long while,” Vakk scoffed in its many voices, refusing to believe just how much that Eurysthenes had forgotten.

”Stop calling me that. You’re new, who are you?”



A flash of white light appeared in front of This One, as a foriegn form a pale white stepped in front of it. Purple tendrils moved independently, almost flowing in the wind rather than being controlled by the being. Gold lined the body and it almost seemed as if the being was wearing robes that ended just above its shins. Its face held no defining features other than gold that merged into the white.

Then the mouth split open, skin ripping apart to reveal a maw of teeth as That One spoke, ”Eurysthenes, you know who I am. All this time we have spent together… our creations.” It paused before extending a hand to touch the face of the one that it knew as Eurysthenes. ”I refuse to believe that you could have forgotten so much. What of the Aroiox? Surely you must remember the creatures that we have made together?”

This One swatted Vakk’s hand away as one might a fly. The earth below it wriggled, tiny bumps pushing up, eager. ”No. I’ve never known you before.

”Yes, you do! I know you do!” Vakk said, desperation clear in the many voices as it grasped the shoulders of the other, ”Do not cast me away like this!”

The ground exploded and little tendrils of stone shot up, eating into the pair, pinning Vakk’s hands to This one’s shoulders.

It screamed.

”Ge- get away! No I don’- don’t… what? Go!”
But That One couldn’t, its hands were rooted. This just made This One scream louder, its mouth widening viciously, black sludge foaming out.

Vakk, unable to pull away and in the midst of being in conflict with one it did not want to fight, chose to rely on a power it had not used for a long time. ”It is okay, be calm. I am stuck to you, be calm. I will leave, if you remain calm,” the words of the many stated, their words flowing throw the other to sway it.

The screaming quieted second by shaky second. This One looked up at Vakk, foam still pouring from its mouth. ”Will it?” it asked, each word sending forth a fresh wave of sludge.

Attempting to hold back a hesitancy, as well as a disgust at the sludge, Vakk spoke, ”Yes, I shall.

”But what of…” it said, looking towards the spikes.

Without speaking another word, That One allowed the purple tendrils to move forwards, breaking off the spikes before going through the process of pulling them through the flesh of the gods. Their ichor flowed little by little as the spikes were brought out, until Vakk was done and could retract its hands from the other one.

Vakk gave a faceless look to the forgotten before turning away with its head down. ”I will need to get the Aroiox, or at least what little of them are left. I… I wish you luck, stranger,” That One spoke, a defeated tone overcoming the voices before the mouth fused back together, hiding the maw behind a thin veil of flesh. Then, it left.

This One watched Vakk leave from the floor in the sludge. In hindsight it wondered how they had been able to calm it so easily. The sludge dissolved.




As Vakk left the mess, it began to ponder why it had allowed things to come this far, how it allowed the one it had enjoyed the company of to become the mess that it currently was. But was there even a way Vakk could have prevented this? Was this something that Vakk could fix? The thoughts were staggering as That One contemplated all the different paths of fate that could have led to Vakk still having the pleasure of keeping Eurysthenes, and not having the forgotten that no longer cared.

It was drawn out of its head by the sight of a handful of stone houses in a cove off in the distance. On nothing more than a whim, it went towards it. It’d be good to clear its head.

The inhabitants beheld Vakk with awe, largely silent in their reverie. All except one, who looked like no stand out among the lot of golden beings.

”You look like our god, but aren’t. Who are you?”

Vakk’s head tilted down to acknowledge the speaker, before the thin veil that hid its mouth ripped itself open. ”I am Vakk, god of speech. I have been inside of Eurysthenes for a long time, so I have adopted a similar yet… more connected form,” it spoke.

”Is Eurysthenes what you call the god?” the smaller being asked. Vakk noticed how its mouth opened from nowhere, much like its own, but without the tearing.

”That is- was its name. But it has forgotten,” Vakk said, its many voices displaying a sadness at having to remember such a fact. It let out a sigh before continuing, “But who are you? What are you? I have yet to see creatures such as you, especially on a continent that I have created.”

”I am Zisqe, the first Bujzell and a Storyteller. I don’t know what I am though. You created this place? How?” it asked, eyes widening in awe.

“I created with the goddess known as ‘Chopstick Eyes’ and we raised it from a large rock that come from the heavens. We created the Feasting Forest and the shrines within. However, this was long ago. Certainly before any creatures of intelligence were spawned,” Vakk said, allowing the pleasant memory of creation to wash over it before it also remembered the blatant evil that it had done.

”But I was different then, I was evil and ruthless. Perhaps I still am, but without anger. It has been too long since I was killed.”

”Chopstick Eyes? What’s that?” it asked, wrinkling its face. ”How are you here if you are dead?”

”I am here for I hid within Eurysthenes. They destroyed my physical form, but my essence coated Eurysthenes and thus, my soul was able to move to it rather than pass on. My previous form was one of anger, massive and terrible. I would have destroyed on sight then, for not presenting me with offerings.”

Vakk took a step forward as it looked between the people, tucking its arms behind its back as it maintained a proper poster.

”But I am different now.”

”You haven’t done that, you must be very changed. You must feel proud,” they grinned, revealing rows and rows of teeth. ”We feel thankful you have not. What’s a soul?”

”A soul is what allows life, such as your people, to flourish. It is an energy that powers your small, feeble forms. All animals have souls. Gods have souls, however, godly souls are far more powerful than you can comprehend.” Vakk answered, boredly looking to the stone huts.

”That’s interesting,” Zisqe said. They noticed Vakk’s boredom with vague disappointment, but a god is a god, and mortals mean little to them. ”You know a lot. I have a riddle to solve, ‘To find the one you lost, you must come to us. We are a mighty legion of armoured siblings. We do not fear weapons, no matter how great or small, but water ruins us. We are effortlessly strong, yet push nothing. To reach us, you must first pass through our footsoldiers.’”. Do you know the answer?”

Vakk scoffed arrogantly, ”I have resided within the God of Puzzles for centuries, a mere riddle means nothing to me. But tell me, why should I give you the answer? Eurysthenes seldom likes giving away an answer, nor does it value cheaters.”

”Oh, no. I was asking if you know the answer, I don’t want you to tell me,” Zisqe responded, looking slightly confused.

There was a silence as Vakk’s head slowly turned to look back at Zisqe, looking the mortal up and down. ”My apologies,” Vakk hissed, almost finding those words hard to say to a mortal, ”I do know the answer.”

Zisqe heard Vakk’s tone and shuffled a little. They considered not talking, but that would be rude, so it said ”I feel glad you do. Maybe I can know it soon,”

As Vakk continued to look at the mortal, it let out an audible sigh as the riddle brought back the thought of the other one. It spoke in a softer tone, ”Perhaps. Look to all of Galbar for your answer, its highest, and its lowest points.” With that, Vakk turned away from the mortal and stepping away before stopping. It turned back to Zisqe before a nearby hill began to morph, shaking off the grass and other plants to reveal the stone that laid beneath.

It formed into an obelisk, with strange symbols of all different, whispering what each meant in strange and foreign tongue. “If you seek to travel Galbar, you will need to know to speak its tongues. That obelisk will teach you any language you do not already know, it will also teach any of your other people, but it must be maintained.”

With those words, Vakk left to return to his home.

———————-








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Hidden 20 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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A Healing Wound




“Checkmate, Your Lordship,” He Bo said with a half-smirk.

The snake frowned. This new game his master servant had made was most definitely rigged against anything divine. It had to be, for he dared not imagine the alternative.

“... I thought you said the pawn could only attack diagonally.”

“This servant did, indeed, Your Lordship,” He Bo replied dutifully as he began to pack up the board. The snake picked up one of the pieces and held it out.

“Then answer me this - why did you take my queen earlier with a forward assault using this piece?”

“Because that is a rook, Your Lordship. Those may move and attack in straight directions.”

The snake eyed the piece closer and huffed. “I swear, you must have carved these so they resemble one another on purpose…”

“If this servant’s skill in woodworking is insufficient, then it shall engage its every resource into improving it in the future, Your Lordship,” said the master servant politely as he put the lid on the wicker basket holding the pieces. The snake pursed his lips, lifted the lid and put the piece inside.

“No, no, your skill is quite sufficient, worthy one…” There was a pause. “... But really, two steps forward and one to the side? What sort of cavalry move is that?”

“It’s meant to simulate flanking, Your Lordship,” replied He Bo calmly.

It is meant to simulate flanking, muh-muh...” the snake muttered sourly. He Bo snickered quietly.

“Would there be anything else, Your Lordship, or should this servant bring His Lordship’s guzheng?”

“No, that would be all. You may bring me my harp. I need to cool off a little.”

“Right away, Your Lordship,” He Bo said with a deep bow before walking off with the basket of pieces.

The snake sat grumbling to himself. “... Did I really just lose a game to a mortal? Is that even possible?” He looked up at the sky. “You left me unfinished, great lord Architect!” he muttered dramatically and sighed.

“Beaten by a--”

His nose caught scent - an odd scent; it was a scent of multiple layers: divine, mortal, bloody. It brought him to the railing of his veranda, where his divine eyes began to scan the surrounding clouds.

“... What are you?”

His gaze settled on a red dot in the distant sky, slowly but surely growing larger as it streaked toward his vessel at an alarming speed.

The snake stared hard eyes at the incoming dot, trying to make sense of the visual and olfactory sensations to paint a picture of what exactly he was seeing.

Then, just before it could crash into one of the towers, it came to a sudden stop. For half a second, a vaguely familiar Vallamir of brown-and-white hair dangled in the air, wearing a peculiar cloak crafted from red feathers, and beneath that a mundane grey robe. Those were not the most striking details, however. No, his eyes were closed, the cloak and his hands were stained with blood, and a Nebulite blade had been impaled through his back.

A single drop of blood fell from the man, and splashed on Shengshi’s deck. Then, once again, he began to move - as if the cloak was dragging him. He maneuvered around the tower, and then once again sped off, continuing his course.

The snake cocked his head to the side. He leaned down, dipped a finger in the blood on his deck and placed the finger on his two-tipped tongue.

“Kalmarian essence…” He smacked his lips. “... With a slight Orvusian hint… Yet something is a little off about it.” There was a pause. “He Bo!”

“Yes, Your Lordship?” said the master servant as if he had simply materialised out of thin air.

“Have the ship follow that man,” the snake demanded.

“His Lordship’s holy might steers the ship, Your Lordship,” He Bo reminded politely. The snake huffed.

“I, I know that… It just sounds so much better when an order is given.”

“So it does, Your Lordship.”

With that, the Jiangzhou set off after Karamir’s unconscious flying body.



Arya sat in her kitchen table, arms folded loosely in her lap. Her chair was in front of a low window, but she did not look outside. At least, she didn’t see what was going on. It was hard to tell on a Nebulite, but she was extremely drained. Her face expressed a profound emptiness, her body was slumped, and she was tired. So tired. Yet, she did not want to sleep. Because sleep was a temptation, and Paradise, even if she went there, could offer her no solutions that she hadn’t thought of herself.

Her mind was a jumbled mess of thoughts, chiefly about Ashalla’s arrival. Her father had not abandoned them, or even if he had, he had been hurt. By who? Who could do such a thing to another? And why had Laurien left? Did she know? Was she sworn to secrecy? Was she threatened? None of it was adding up.

After Ashalla left, she immediately called out for Orvus, but the only thing she recieved was silence. And it was that silence that crushed her spirits. It all came crashing down, a wave of emptiness. Her sword was corrupting her, her father had been injured or worse, Laurien was gone, those she felt comfortable with asking for help, were dead. They were dead. And she couldn’t tell them anything, there was no point. Those she could tell, could also do nothing about it.

She wanted to go find Laurien, she did, but then who would watch over the Eye? Who would make it safe? Her Knights were only equipped with stones. They could do nothing to those that she was beginning to fear most. Ashalla had frightened her. Never before had she met such a being who casually saw her as little more than nothing. How could she show such little compassion?

Then there was the fact that the other gods were trying to figure out an alternative to the Pyres and she sat with the key. How could K’nell do that? It just made her sad. And so she did not leave her house, even when her family came to check on her. She had to lie, say she felt ill, that she needed to be left alone. It broke her further, but she did not feel like doing anything about it. What was the point? Why drag anyone else into it? Why bring them sadness, when she could keep it, and try to get over it herself?

A single black tear fell down her face, landing on hand, before rolling into her gown.

There was a sudden movement in the window at the corner of her eye. The fluttering of wings, and a light scraping against wood. She turned her head slowly to the noise, expecting nothing more than a stray gardener that hit the window.

It was not a stray, it was not a gardener, and it had not hit the window. But it was a bird… and it was familiar.

Arryn stared back at her, and wordlessly inclined his head.

She stared at Arryn for what felt like forever, before remembering that she had been told by Myra that the avatar was on his way. And now, he was right there. Perched on the window sill. She felt something stir inside her, a warmth blossoming from her chest. A flood of tears began to pour down her face as she got up, falling to her knees as she opened the window. Without saying anything she gently snatched the bird up into her arms and turned around to lean up against the wall as she cried and stroked his head.

”O-Oh Arry.” she choked out.

There was a time when Arryn would have resisted such an embrace. He would have swiftly fought his way free, and then replied with a glare, or a stern reprimand.

Instead, his own eyes began to shimmer, and his wings extended to wrap around her.

”I-I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” she said over and over again, her voice small, reminiscent of her youth. As she continued to hug him and stroked his head, he said nothing, but his wings tightened and he pressed his head harder against her.

”I missed you. I missed you so much. But I was afraid you hated me. I’m so sorry Arryn. I should have tried to see you sooner. I should have-” she broke down again, her voice failing. There were no words that could truly explain what she felt.

I… Arryn tried to begin, his own voice, even telepathically, in no better shape. Me too… was all he could say.

The two held each other for a very long time, saying nothing but living in the moment as they reunited. Arya’s tears became less and less as she calmed down. It had been forever since she had seen her first friend, and she never wanted to feel so sad again.

She then said in a raw voice, ”I’m glad you’re here, Arryn.”

I am glad too, the bird said, having calmed down as well. I… please don’t tell anybody I acted like this. Not even Kalmar, he requested, a mild treachery.

Arya chuckled softly, [color=ivory]”Arryn… You shouldn’t be ashamed of your emotions… But okay, I won’t tell anyone.”[color] she cooed.

You’ve changed, the bird noted. It has been a long time…

”I… I grew up Arry. You didn’t think I’d remain a child forever did you?” she smiled warmly.

All creatures do change over time, it’s true… Arryn conceded. What happened to you since… his voice trailed off.

”It’s… It’s a long story…” Arya said sadly. ”But after you left… I learned from Shengshi.” she said again, telling him her entire life story. They did not move from where they sat, and as the sun began to set, Arya still continued on, telling Arryn of her travels, and the people she met, and of Tendlepog and everything else in between. ”...And that leads us to now.” she said as the chorus of night filtered in through the window. ”You came when I needed you most.”

I see why you were sad, Arryn said, after listening to it all. I’m supposed to seek out the Vallamir here, but… is there anything I can do to help?

”This doesn’t seem right to ask, only just getting you back… But I need to know where my father went and you, are one of the only ones that I know that could track him.” she said softly.

I… he began, but then seemed to hesitate. I can try, he offered. But first I need to complete my task. I have to speak to the Vallamir. After that, I can help.

”Of course Arryn. Seeing them is your first priority, but… Tomorrow. They’ll be sleeping now.” she said with a smile.

Arryn nodded. Very well, he said.




Morning came, and Arryn had decided to commandeer Arya’s house for the meeting with Vallamir. There, he told them of Kalmar, what would be expected of them should they agree to come, and what they would find on the continent itself - both its dangers, and its bounties. The majority had already left, deciding they would prefer to stay on the Eye.

Only four remained, Myra among them, shifting with uncertainty. They asked their questions, while Arya waited outside, occasionally overhearing snippets. Stories of large beasts, lush forests, a temple, some sort of weapon called a sling, and frost giants.

Whatever her own thoughts were, they were soon interrupted by a light wumph! as a figure landed on the ground in front of her. He lay on his side, his back to her, all except his unkempt brown hair obscured obscured by a cloak of red feathers.

She jumped in her chair screaming from the fright as she looked at the body of the man suddenly before her. When he did not move, Arya’s brow furrowed and she rushed to the side of him. She fell to her knees behind him, noticing the sword that was embedded in his flesh. The hilt was… strangely reminiscent of herself, so was the blade. She peered over his side, using on of her hands, she brought his head up and moved his hair away from his face with her other hand.

Her eyes went wide as she realized that the familiar face was… Karamir? He was taller than she remembered, and part of his hair was now white, but there was no mistaking him. His eyes were closed, his clothes were ragged. His front, back, and both of his hands were stained with red and white blood. ”Di… Diana…” he murmured.

The door to the house flew open, and out came the four remaining Vallamir, Arryn among them. He landed on the grass in front of Karamir, took one look at the man, and then up at Arya. What happened? he demanded.

She looked up at Arryn and was bewildered. ”I have no idea, he just landed here like this. He’s got a sword embedded in him, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. He needs help Arryn.” Arya said quickly, checking Karamir’s forehead. He was burning up.

He’s dying, came Arryn’s immediate diagnosis. Get him inside, cover and put pressure on his wounds, and leave that sword in - it might be all that is holding his guts together. Move! This last word was directed at the motionless Vallamir who stood between Arya and her house. They quickly moved out of the way, and Myra went to the end of his body so that she could lift up his feet while Arya carried the shoulders.

They went quickly, placing him on the kitchen table exactly how he was, on his side. Arya began ripping her dress in strips and applying them around the sword as she put pressure on them. ”Arryn, what do we do. I-I’ve never dealt with this sort of injury before.” Arya said flustered.

Myra was wrapping a cloth around Karamir’s sliced hand. Arryn, perched on the edge of the table, walked forward and stopped just before the blade. He extended his wings, and a look of deep concentration passed over him for a few moments… then he nearly collapsed. I lack the power to save him… the bird conceded reluctantly. Keep applying pressure. I’m going to find out what happened. And with those words the bird stalked over to Karamir’s head.

A pit formed in her stomach. Arryn couldn’t save him? How were they going to…? She tried to think if there was anyway, or anything that she knew of that could help Karamir and her mind came up with nothing. She didn’t have the skills of a healer, and she grew angry at the fact she couldn’t just fix him. She barely even knew Karamir outside of their dream, and yet, seeing him like this…

His soul has been partly decayed… Arryn observed, sounding shocked. By an unnatural force. His memories are in chaos. The bird then began to recite what he could make out, almost as if the images were flashing through his mind as he spoke. He found a settlement in a desert… he accepted a drink from their leader… she attacked him... he fought some Nebulites… their leader waved a hand… then he felt pain, and emptiness…

Arryn shook his head. That is all I can see. Does any of this mean something to you? he asked Arya.

There would only be Nebulites in a desert if… Her heart began to sink. She didn’t want it to be true, it couldn’t be… But she had to know. ”Arryn… What did the leader look like?” she asked forlornly.

”Reee… in…” Karamir suddenly breathed as Arryn went back into his memories. Tall, black skin, shining hair, black armour, and a sword not too different from your own. Arryn observed. Is that your sister?

”No no no!” That’s not… That’s not Laurien. That’s not her. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t do that…” Arya cried out. How could Laurien do such a thing? What prompted her to hurt Karamir? She felt her heart break again, but she breathed in and then out. This was not the time. Karamir needed their help and she wasn’t going to let those thoughts consume her.

”Arryn. We need to do something here!” Arya said sternly, applying more pressure.

There is a Selka Tribe on Atokhekwoi, Arryn revealed, Who know how to infuse water with magic, and use that to heal injuries. I will go there. I do not know how long it will take, but if you can keep him alive until I bring one of them back, there might be a chance.

She gritted her teeth and reluctantly nodded her head, ”Go! Fly fast! I’ll… I’ll pray to Kalmar. Maybe he can help.” Arya said quickly.

Arryn had already flown out the window.

She began to speak out loud, ”Kalmar! Karamir needs you, he’s been hurt. Please!”




The snake sneered at the growing blot in the sea that he knew was the Eye. He clicked his forked tongue disapprovingly in the way one does when seeking attention and as usual, He Bo was right beside him.

“His Lordship was not hoping to return to the Eye?”

The snake shook his head. “Two encounters with the Nebulite sodomites has been quite enough. I loathe the thought of a third.”

“With all due respect, Your Lordship, this servant is confident that the worst of the sodomites came along for the odyssey to Asteria.”

The snake hummed disapprovingly. “To think I took the worst of such a kind and put them on my precious land… What was I thinking?”

“His Lordship is gracious and generous, and in His generosity chose to take pity upon even the ungrateful sinners that now populate the Foot. It is in His Lordship’s nature to be selfless like so.”

The snake gave the master servant a smile. “You always know what to say, He Bo.”

The ship landed neatly in the sea and the snake slithered down the staircase of water formed by the freshwater river that had carried the ship through the sky. He went alone this time, for another scent had joined the one he followed.

“I suppose we would meet again sooner or later.”

The snake dusted himself off, smoothed over his hair and beard and slithered towards Arya’s house.

As he got closer, his divine senses could taste the blood in the air and the frantic talking of people coming from inside the house.

"Arya you need rest! Let Ava take over." came a stern, but motherly voice.

"No! I'm not tired, I can still do this, take Myra's spot." came the familiar voice of Arya, but richer and perhaps sadder.

He slithered through the front door to see a strange sight. Across from him was several Nebulites and another species. Arya was the only one he knew by name and she had grown. No longer was she the small mouthless girl he had once known, she had become a woman. They all stood around a table, on it there was a man with a sword embedded in his back.

Several heads turned to see who the newest visitor was and all gaped in awe, save Arya. The girl smiles briefly before seeming to remember what she was doing. Her face took on a grim expression. "Your Holiness! We need a healer, please!" she said with desperation in her voice.

The snake blinked and gave the man on the table a frown. "If he needed a healer so desperately, he should have just stopped when he passed my ship. Stand aside." The snake pushed his way over to Karamir and hummed. "Bring me fire and water - make the water fresh."

The Nebulites quickly scrambled for what the God needed. Arya stayed behind and went closer to Karamir and whispered, "You're going to be okay. Stay strong." she then looked up at his Lordship and said, "It's good to see you, your Lordship. It's been… Too long. I just wish the circumstances were a bit better."

"They will improve once this man is nursed back to health, my dear. For now, though, it is good to see you, too. I am sorry I did not come to visit on my last trip here. I was preoccupied, unfortunately."

"Yes… We'll need to talk about that." Arya said knowingly. It was then that the Nebulites came back, carrying torches of fire and pots full of water.

“Indeed, we must, but for now…” The snake took a torch and a pot of water. “... The spawn of Kalmar must be healed.”

The snake held out one of his claws and put it into the fire of the torch. It was coated in soot, then began to glow a dark red. A simple alteration of the heat around his claw made it warmer than it should be, and made it so it kept warm even as he removed it from the fire. With simple, controlled prods, the snake seared shut the smaller cuts on Karamir’s skin, and then deftly lurked out the blade before burning closed that wound, as well. Working quickly, he took the water in the pot and had it spread to every cauterised wound. The brown, or at times black, crisps of skin flaked off under the water to reveal fresh, new skin underneath. The stab wound started from the centre, the punctured, now-recovering organs within filling up the space before new skin spin itself together at the surface, leaving a pale scar. While Karamir was nowhere near full recovery, he was at the very least not bleeding anymore.

Arya watched with disbelief as the wounds healed. So too did everyone else that was inside, with quiet murmurs and praise for the River Lord. At last, Karamir was able to be on his back and Arya did so gently. Rowan then spread a blanket across him and placed a pillow under his head. "Thank you, your Lordship." Arya said misty eyed. She then went over and tentatively plucked the sword from where it lay. She looked at it with curious eyes.

The snake wiped his hands off with a handkerchief he materialised out one of the unused bandages. “It was nothing. This mortal did not deserve to die - at least not before he identifies his attacker.” His nose wrinkled again and he gave a quiet hiss. “... There is something odd about him, though. His presence feels… Lacking. Even for a mortal.”

Arya sighed, giving the sword to Myra, who studied it with a curious gaze of her own. Arya then looked up at Shengshi and said, "His attacker was… Laurien. Arryn said as much before he left to find a healer in the Selka. I don't know why she did this… But I know what afflicts him. She decayed his soul." Arya said sadly.

“Decayed his soul, you say?” The snake cupped his chin in his hand. “That is unfortunate - I have not the power to reverse that. If his spirit is rotting, then there is nothing I can do.” His expression darkened. “... To think I just saw Laurien the other day - was this Polyastera’s order, the cretin? Or…” There was a droning hum.

"My father could reverse it if he was… Here. Your Holiness, what did Laurien tell you ten years ago about my father? Surely you must have wondered where he was and asked?" Arya asked, rubbing her chin.

“He was absent, if recall. I chose not to pry - I would rather not have disturbed him in case he was busy. I reckon, then, that something had happened to him.”

"His ichor was spilled upon a beach, Ashalla said as much, but it was faint, old even. I fear my sister is keeping a secret your holiness. One I don't want to believe." Arya said again, looking at Karamir.

“A rather obvious one, once the pieces are put together,” the snake said with a dark frown. “... Deicide and patricide… Even the thought of such crimes is a gruesome sin, let alone the attempt. The sister you once knew, Arya, has committed a most heinous crime. Her motivation, I do not know, but it surprises me not that she would not hesitate to harm a mortal if her blade has tasted godly blood.” He looked down at Karamir. “... If this man is half as bent on getting involved with others’ affairs as his creator is, I can see a possible reason behind his wounding, too.”

She felt numb, hearing what her thoughts had led her too, now said by another. She looked over to Rowan, the woman stood in front of a window looking out. Then she looked at Lily, who sat in a chair with a blank look. Arya gripped the table in front of her, looking down to see her shaking hands, before asking, "And what would that reason be?" in a small voice.

“Is it not obvious? This man asked the exact questions he was not supposed to ask, and pried the topics he should not have pried. His thirst for knowledge was met with a pint of his own blood - or a few more. He must have lost quite a bit on the way here.” The snake gave Karamir a quick look-over with a pair of hard eyes.

"Yeah…" she said absentmindedly. The snake shot her glance.

“What will you do now?”

"I don't know. Find my father… Find Laurien… Fix this mess and find out why she did it. Orvus isn't dead… I would have felt it. No, he's somewhere, and I can only guess where she would have taken him." Arya said hollowly, looking down at her hands.

The snake slithered over and placed a clawed hand on her shoulder. “No, Orvus is not dead. It takes more than a well-armed mortal to kill a god - you can trust me on that. However, her crime still stands.” The snake gave her a stern look. “You know she cannot go unpunished after what she has done.”

"I… I know…" her black tears falling again for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last day.

“Good,” said the snake and let go of her shoulder. He slithered over to a chair, touched it and watched as it became a beautifully adorned leanchair with silk-upholstered pillows. He sat down and propped his cheek on a fist.

Not even a minute later, muffled voices were heard outside, and Shengshi felt an all-too familiar presence. “TEN THOUSAND YEARS TO-”

”Quiet!” an equally familiar gruff, angry voice barked, and then mere moments later Kalmar burst through the door. He was different. His ears were pointed, he had a beard in place of a moustache, and his clothes were more refined. He did a quick scan of the room, his gaze shifting from Karamir, to Arya, and then finally to Shengshi. ”What happened?” he asked through grit teeth.

“Nice to see you, too,” the snake said dryly.

Kalmar scowled, then he looked back to Karamir, and his expression softened. He stepped closer to the table, saw the bloodstains, noted that the wound was healed, but then used his finer senses and realized that the decay Arryn told him of still remained. ”Who did this?” he asked, looking up at Arya.

Arya smiled faintly at Kalmar then frowned. "It was my sister…" she said with regret.

Kalmar then looked to Shengshi, his expression carefully neutral. ”Did you heal him?” he asked.

“I did.” The snake shifted in his bejeweled chair. “Consider it an olive branch on my part. He soared by my ship and I could tell he was wounded. I followed him here and the rest is history. I am glad I did, too, as it helped me get some answers I have been wondering about.”

”Well… thank you for that,” the Hunter said grudgingly, the words sounding stiff and awkward, before looking back down at the table. ”There is still his soul to fix. Any idea on how to do that?”

The snake shrugged. “Arya proposes Orvus can fix that, buuut… Well, he is not here.”

”I know. Arryn told me he has been missing for ten years,” Kalmar frowned, before once again turning to Arya. ”Arae told me he gave up on the path of destruction. Azura told me he returned to it. Which one is true?”

Arya shrugged. "When and why did Azura say that?" she said blankly.

”Twelve years ago, when I met her at her Vault. Some time before that, Orvus tried to decay the souls contained within,” Kalmar answered. ”This would have been before his disappearance.”

The girl frowned and sighed. "I don't know what my father does when he isn't on the Eye Kalmar. I don't really know anything anymore, it feels like."

”Then one way or another, we need to find him.” Kalmar decided.

"I agree. He's our first priority. Laurien comes second." she said.

”I will set out soon. Arya, I’m going to need you to stay here, in case Karamir wakes up. He might remember something, or…” Kalmar paused. ”Orvus once intended to destroy all life, simply because his soul was frayed. If something similar happened to Karamir, there is no telling how his mind was affected. Someone needs to keep an eye on him.”

Arya nodded. "I can do tha-" she began to say but was interrupted by a golden skinned child bursting through the door.

"MOM!" He shouted. Rowan turned around to see Doron, tears stained her cheeks but she wore a confused look on her face.

"Not now Doron." She said sternly.

"But the skies falling!" He blurted anyways.

Arya frowned and ran over to the door, Doron stepping towards Rowan. As soon as she looked up, she saw Veradax and from it, thousands of meteors descending.

"Oh no."

Kalmar appeared beside her. His eyes widened, and once again his expression hardened. ”We were wondering what Orvus has been up to for the past decade,” he growled, ”And this might be our answer.”

She breathed, "No… He wouldn't…"

”You said it yourself, you don’t know what he does when he’s not on the Eye,” Kalmar frowned. ”I’m going to Veradax,” he announced, in a tone that brook no argument.

“Now do not be so rash, brother,” the snake’s deep, oily voice hissed gently as he slithered over. He stuck a head out the door as well. “Oh, my, that -is- a predicament… Regardless, Orvus may be an oddball, but he would not be foolish enough to do this - not over some surly stabbing, anyway. He knows all too well that the gods have things they love on this world now, and to threaten them would certainly mean his own destruction.” He frowned at the sky. “Another piece may have taken control of the board…”

”Whether Orvus is involved or not, his sphere is the cause of this new threat,” Kalmar insisted. ”Someone must go there and fight the problem at its source. I’m going.”

“In that case, will you grant me permission to cross onto Kalgrun soil in case one of those larger rocks should approach just a little too close, then? I promise, I will not be a bother.”

Kalmar seemed genuinely taken aback by that, and for a moment wondered if he had heard the River God correctly. Then he spoke, his voice soft. ”As thanks for healing Karamir, and making this offer,” he said, little louder than a whisper. ”Your banishment from Kalgrun is lifted.”

The snake bowed his head. “I thank you, Kalmar. I have been hoping to make amends for my…” He strained himself a little. “... Unfortunate episode all those years ago. Consider this a start.”

”I didn’t handle myself very well back then either,” Kalmar admitted. And with those words, he was gone, rushing eastward.

The snake nodded with a half-smile before turning to Arya. “Well, I suppose I ought to do something about those incoming rocks, hmm?”

"That would be lovely, your Holiness." she said, still watching the meteors.

The snake nodded and made his way back to the ship. He climbed onto the deck and turned to the servants. “I would advice everyone to head below deck. This can be quite a bumpy ride.”
The servants blinked at one another and hurried into the palace. The snake looked to the sky once more - a number of larger rocks were heading towards the islands.

“He Bo - please secure everything precious below deck.”

“Right away, Your Lordship!” He Bo yelled before closing the palace gates behind him. The water gathered below the great vessel and lifted it to the heavens. As it climbed, it gained more and more speed, the snake standing at the very head of the dragon with a vicious grin on his face. The vessel was rocketing straight towards the largest rock, and at this point, the ship wasn’t as much sailing on the river as it was being pushed by a jet of water. As the metres between the bow and the stone disappeared rapidly, the snake hummed to himself.

“I should have written a poem about this - oh well, later I suppose.”

Then the Jiangzhou slammed into the great meteor. Often in cases such as these, the wooden ship would have been reduced to sawdust and splinters, leaving Shengshi as a sole survivor; however, the sacred planks, oiled with divine blessings, could withstand any strike not made by a god - stone was no challenge.

The meteor with its great mass and speed wasn’t broken apart by this lighter vessel, yes, but it was slowed down considerably and sent off its course, settling instead for the much less terrestrially populated ocean. The snake’s ship repeated the process for all the other meteors heading for the island, scooping the smallest ones he could reach up with cold river water. Many of them cracked apart from the cold shock and became dust.

Arya was amazed at the display of the Jiangzhou but had little time to watch as her mind kicked into gear. A following had began to arrive around her, asking what to do and Arya looked to the Marble Star and yelled, "Everyone get to the Marble Star! Pass the word around, gather food and valuables then go!" and the crowd scurried in every direction as Arya went back inside her house. It had felt like the end times had come, but she still had people to protect.








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”Quickly Phoset, grab your things. Andromeda! Hurry darling.” Laurien said, rummaging through what was left of her belongings. The ones that hadn’t been burned, looted, or destroyed anyway. After the brief encounter with Karamir, and his escape, Laurien realized it was time to leave. If he survived… Even if he didn’t survive, someone would come looking for her. The man had been right about one thing, Abanoc would know, and he would spill her secrets.

Her children scampered about, getting their meager items and throwing them into sacks. They could only take so much after all, she just hoped it would be enough. She had her own sack of items, from a few gold pieces to clothing and food. There was no time for anything else, she hadn’t even notified the slaves about the bodies yet. Her paranoia had finally caught up to her.

“Mommmmmmy!” Andromeda whined, “Why are we leaving? I thought everything was safe?”

She turned to see both her daughter and son waiting in the doorway, their eyes large and innocent. ”Mommy… Mommy made a few mistakes, okay? And we have to go someplace far away, so we don’t get in trouble.” she said, shooing them downstairs.

“But I don’t want to leave.” Phoset complained.

”Pho, we don’t have a choice. I’m sorry. I know you like it here, but I promise, we’ll find somewhere new and great and we can start over.” she said, entering the garden.

“But what about Omni and Polly?” Andromeda asked. “Shouldn’t we get them too?”

”They’ll be okay. Do you remember Aster? Mommy’s friend? He’ll watch over them.” she lied. Aster lay dead on the balcony. She had no idea what the nobles would do to those children after they figured out she was gone. Nor did she care, they had to go. They passed the Pygmy and Dari girl, who cowered in a corner. Laurien gave them a side glance before saying, ”Go home, don’t ever come back.” Before leaving them to their own business. They walked to the front door and out onto the street.

Laurien bent down in front of them and said, ”Now… We are going to fly, okay? Can you both do that? If you get tired, tell me.” They both nodded silently, soft smiles on their lips. They loved flying. Laurien then stood up, and looked up into the sky. With sword on her back and her possessions in hand, she began to float off the ground. Phoset and Andromeda, began following.

A loud roar sounded off in the distance. From the horizon appeared a figure that was flying towards them extraordinarily quickly, and it was evident that despite the distance, it would close in on them soon. Laurien... The name rang in their heads menacingly, calling to them in a feminine voice. A few moments later, the creature caught up to them and began to slow down, circling them in the air. Its wings flapped occasionally to keep it aloft, its sky blue scales glittering in the sunlight, and perhaps would have been quite beautiful to watch were they not aware that they were in deep trouble. The serpentine dragon kept one eye on them at all times, particularly on Laurien. You have much to answer for, Laurien,” the voice rang again.

Andromeda and Phoset clung to Laurien’s legs as they watched the dragon circle them. They looked behind her with wide eyes and shaky bodies. Laurien did not go for her sword, her heart sinking in her chest as she realized who was before her. ”Holiness Arae… Please… Just let me explain…” she gulped, suddenly feeling very small.

The attempted murder of your father Orvus, the abandonment of your sister Arya, another attempted murder on Karamir… these are but a few of your crimes. What, praytell, is there to explain? Arae asked her.

”I… I…” she stammered, her heart beating through her chest. ”Please… He took Silver from me… He killed her and didn’t even let me say goodbye… He-he made me an errand girl for years to find someone who he could have found himself if he had just gotten over himself.” she said, beginning to cry.

“Mommy…?” Phoset said, grabbing her hand.

Your blame on Orvus for the death of Silver is unfair to him. Arae remarked. If I know him correctly, I’m sure he would’ve at least explained himself to you had you given him time. But you didn’t. In your grief, you tried to kill him.

”Unfair…? Was it unfair that she came back in the form of a person who wouldn’t even look at me? Who said we could never be together? Did you know that? Did you know that Li’Kalla lives again and that Silver is dead? How fair is that? How can you preach to me about what isn’t unfair when you did nothing when he attacked Phystene! Your sister! Or did you forget about that because I’m mortal and our crimes are more heavily weighed by you gods.” she said angrily. Phoset and Andromeda began to cry softly.

I did not go to Phystene when she needed aid, but that was because she already had it from other siblings. Orvus, though, was not so fortunate. When Orvus was still confused about his role in this world, and the rest of my siblings saw him as the enemy of Galbar, I was one of the few who met with him to help him. To keep him from causing harm to our siblings like that again, and guide him to a better path for himself. While he may have rejected me, the seeds were sown, and he found his path, Arae explained.

As for Li’Kalla and Silver... Arae went silent for a time, thinking about what to say as she received information from her Sphere. Finally, when she was sure of her info, Arae continued, Silver was a fragment of Li’Kalla, and made the choice herself to reunite with her other fragments and return to being Li’Kalla. Orvus may blame himself for letting Silver go, but he is not responsible for her fate.

And as for me… I will not deny that I have been a fool in the past, Arae admitted. I have made mistakes before, and will continue to make mistakes in the future. But those mistakes are ones I have faced and made my peace with. You, on the other hand… you chose to run. You ran away after nearly killing Orvus, and now you’re running away again. If this is the path you wish to take… then run. Forever.

Arae’s eye began to burst into flame. At the same time, a searing heat suddenly emitted from Laurien’s sword, and dissipated just as quickly. I assume that is the blade you used to wound Orvus. In that case, it is a cursed blade, and will be made as such. As long as you wield that blade, you shall always be on the run. Tragedy will strike if you aren’t.

Laurien began to laugh wildly. ”This is too surreal. You’re such a hypocrite.” Her demeanor then suddenly changed to anger. ”All of you gods are!” she screamed, her hands balling into fists. ”Of course you’d help him! But where was my help? Where were you? Another mistake huh? Now, to ease your guilty conscience, you curse me and my children. You’ll never understand! How could you even begin… No! No no no! This isn’t fair!” she growled again, her face contorted into rage. ”Go on then. Leave us to our fate, like all of you do.” she said as he children cried.

This pains me as much as it does you, Arae said glumly. Still, I will at least tell you this. This curse is yours alone to bear. It will not affect your children, as they are innocent from your crimes. If you wish to leave them, I will swear on my word as a Goddess that no harm will befall them.

Arae then began to turn and leave. While doing so, she left some parting words for Laurien, If you wish to break your curse, find peace within yourself. And go see Orvus when you do. Soon, she was but a mere speck in the distance, flying out of sight over the horizon as quickly as she came.

”Monster…” Laurien whispered as she watched the goddess leave. She suddenly deflated and floated back to the paved ground. It had all caught up to her… And now… She had to make the hardest decision of her life. She turned around to see Andromeda and Phoset, the two crying. Laurien gave them a small smile and wiped away their tears.

She voice was shaky as she spoke. ”Listen… Mommy… I have to go away.” she said crying. Their faces suddenly shattered and both gripped onto her.

“No no no! Mommy please, don’t go!” Phoset cried out, his small voice quivering.

“We’ll go with you! Please let us go with you!” Andromeda said.
Laurien shook her head. ”No babies… You could get hurt… I could get hurt and who would protect you? Running forever is no life. You’ll be safe here, I promise. Andromeda you need to be strong, for your brother. Phoset, listen to your sister, be good to each other. I’ll be back one day, I promise and we’ll be happy, okay?” she said softly beginning to stand up.

Phoset would not let go of her leg as he cried out for her to stay, prompting Andromeda to pull him off. Laurien looked down at them, her soft facade beginning to break. ”I love you. The both of you, so, so much. Okay?” before turning around and flying away. It was then, and only then, that she broke down completely as her heart shattered. And for once… The only person she could blame was herself.

Phoset and Andromeda cried out her name, but it was too late. She was not coming back. The two children were alone, like two sheep in a city of wolves. But at least they had a god protecting them… Right?

Up above, the first Meteor streaked across the sky.





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Anshumat

A god is an idiot indifferent to his own violence.




Nothing seemed quite the same to those who attempted Gralph's trial. The light of the morning left a suspense in their eyes, as if they were in a dream and only yesterday was reality. Some played it off as exhaustion. A few others, like Anboor, remained quiet and ashamed with themselves. The winners of the trial, or at the very least Wass and Phialu, woke up with an entirely different disconnection with reality.

They were hurried to have a quick breakfast with their friends and families before being ushered to the grassy island of their trials, this time in the company of k'nights. Anshumat had no open family present as the selka did, nor was there an urge to eat, but they were hurried along with the other winners as well.

Their arrival on the island had them on their toes at first. There were no monsters in sight, the stonework shone brightly in the sun, showing off its blood-like veins, and the features of the central hill were now in full view. The were magnificent in their scale and intricacy.

In good humour, the k'nights led the three victors up one of the gently spiralling staircases leading up to the top of the high pillar. The steps were not too steep, but being as high up as they were, even the k'nights were careful where they placed their feet. A surprisingly exerting climb later and they were on the large circular platform at the summit. Five thin pillars were the only solid objects bounding them from the edges, and as such they had a view all the way up and down the coast for further than they had ever ventured before, not to mention a view over the trees and the river in the mainland. The far off mountains to the west barely poked their white caps between the sky and the land on the horizon.

The sun beat on their backs behind them. Gralph spoke to grab their attention.

"Glad you could make it." He turned a hand from its resting place atop his club as it stood propped up on the pavement below and beckoned them all. "Come closer. It's past time you became k'nights."

Anshumat silently watched as Gralph spoke. After a pause, Phialu walked past them to approach Gralph. Wass sighed behind them both and stepped up in turn.

Gralph smiled, giving Anshumat a pointed look to let them know they were not forgotten. "You're all here because you were faced with death and were still able to think on your feet. You're here because you were skilled and talented enough to escape death with something gained. Today's the day you tell that to Kirron, and devote yourself to using what you got."

The biggest k'night besides Gralph, Antoph, stepped up beside Gralph with three whale bone clubs under one arm. He pulled a stone knife from his belt and offered it to Gralph.

Gralph took the knife by the blade and held it out. "Who's first?"

Anshumat slowly stepped forward, putting out their hand to grip the handle of the blade. Wass and Phialu watched on anxiously. Anshumat looked to Gralph.

"Hmph, alright," Gralph said happily. "Open a little cut on your hand. Just enough to draw some blood."

As he spoke, Antoph pulled one of the clubs from under his arm and placed it in one of Gralph's huge hands.

Anshumat pressed the knife against their hand, though no blood emerged. They looked at the knife for a moment, before pressing it down heavily. The demigod briefly strained the knife against their shelled hand, until, suddenly, the knife snapped.

Gralph snorted, put a hand to his head, and broke out laughing, eyes shut and leaning back. This time, none of the k'nights were laughing with him. They were confused, more than anything else.

"I should have thought of that!" Gralph stated. "Bahahaha! Alright, alright! Good thing I've got a backup plan." He reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a familiar rough yellow stone. He stepped to take Anshumat by the wrist and planted the stone into their palm.

The stone was hard at first in Anshumat's fingers, but just the tiniest squeeze caused it to collapse like a rotten plum. Immediately, golden juices flowed over their hand and down their arm. The demigod did not get a moment further to realise it was their own blood before Gralph wiped his mouth and became serious again.

Presented from Gralph's hand, thin-end first, towards Anshumat, was the bone club of a k'night. It had no deeds notched upon it yet.

"Take this and hold onto it with your bloodied hand." Gralph said. "This is Kirron's hand you'll be holding. You've got some promises to make him."

Anshumat stared down Gralph with their scratched, milky gray eyes as they grabbed hold of the club, divine ichor trailing down their hand as they did so.

"You are a powerful being, Anshumat," Gralph said in a new, dreadfully present voice. "Like us, you've got anger, you've got pain, you've got fear, grief, and vengeful thoughts."

The essence that Anshumat sensed from Gralph from the moment they met shone out from behind the hulking selka's big dark eyes.

"You can have the power to act on it all. You can earn it by improving lives, and marking your deeds on this here club. With every mark, you'll become more powerful. By the time you're done, your vengeance will already be complete. Do you promise to pursue it as a k'night of Kirron's bloody red horizon?"

Anshumat did not flinch away as the essence flared in their vision, as they firmly promised, “I promise on my honor.”

"Then this club is yours, to record your progress. Take care of it. Anshumat the Eyebiter."

Antoph, having being comparatively dour and sulky up to this point, repeated the title with his deep, hollow voice. "Eye-bite-r...Eye-bite-r...Eye-bite-r!"

The other k'nights joined in one by one, holding up their own clubs in time with the syllables.

"Eye-bite-r! Eye-bite-r! Eye-bite-r!"

All of a sudden, they approached and were all around Anshumat, gleefully chanting the title, pulling on Anshumat's sleeves, patting them on the shoulders and back. Quickly enough, Anshumat was pulled gently away from Gralph, taking their new club with them.

Anshumat, in their part, looked around at all the k’nights, surprised at the sudden energy.

"Anshumat the Eyebiter!" Gralph said with his usual voice returned. "K'night of Red Horizon!"

"Eye-bite-oh! The knife!" the keen k'night Phorea held up Anshumat's wrist. "We'll need this for the other two, Anshumat."

Anshumat opened their hand slightly, keeping hold of the club but letting a small, jagged rock from the broken knife fall out. Another k'night, this one with a bow over his shoulder, quickly stuck out a hand to catch it and bring it back to Gralph.

Wass and Phialu looked on with wide eyes. A smile began to spread across Wass' cheeks.

The ceremony was largely the same for Wass and Phialu, if without mishaps for their softer skin. Gralph spoke with his divine voice and dictated their promises, just the same as Anshumat's. Curiously, neither appeared as sure about being accused of all the negativity, but they agreed to their task all the same. Phialu was dubbed 'Phialu the Determined' and Wass was dubbed 'Wassamuttu the Quick'. After receiving their clubs, both were taken into the k'night's arms with joyful and energetic chants. A couple of the k'nights even prodded Anshumat to join in the chanting.



After the ceremony was done and they had all climbed down from the column on the hill, Kyko the Smiling tried to instigate some wrestling matches amongst the k'nights. Gralph quickly broke it up, citing there was little time to be messing around. The newly initiated would have to say goodbye to their village.

The swim back to the mainland was quick and without distraction, largely due to the sombre air. Everyone knew it was coming.

Gralph told Phialu and Wass they had as much time as they needed. The pair of them split away with downcast eyes. The rest of the k'nights wandered to mill about for a while, and Gralph crossed his arms, looking at Anshumat with a raised eyebrow.

A moment passed between them.

"I'd better find the chief," Gralph said, turning on one foot in the sand to walk away. "I won't be long."

Anshumat was left standing. With a quick glance across the village, they spotted the blurry, dim essence of a single selka -- the one they were looking for. Anshumat began the brisk walk towards an outer field near the treeline.

The selka in question was squatting in front of a sprouting plant sticking out of the soil where Gralph had planted its seed a couple of days earlier. He looked over his shoulder, lowering his silken hood with one hand to make way for his eye. His shoulders relaxed and he turned to look down at the plant again. Anshumat could hear him sigh.

Anshumat looked over Toraph, seeing the sprouting plant. Placing their club aside outside the field, they walked over, stepping over similar sprouts to crouch down by the Selka. “What plant is that?” the demigod asked.

Toraph rubbed the back of his neck. "Bean. I think." He spoke quietly. "They came out quickly."

Anshumat nodded. “Bean is good baked over fire in mustard seed paste and molasses. I’ve harvested them wild before on my trek east.” They reached out, touching the delicate sprout. “If you can grow them right at home, then your village will be saved plenty of time they would have had to scavenge.”

"That's the idea," Toraph agreed. He glanced at Anshumat with a flash of a small smile, but there was a prevailing grief in his eyes he was keeping back. "You should come back here to the river mouth some time with...muztard seed and...mole-asez. If we have enough beans, we can bake them and both my brothers can try it, too."

Anshumat nodded, looking at Toraph with their blinded eyes, before asking, “What’s wrong?”

Toraph stared at the bean sprout as his smile faded. He took a while to answer, each of his breaths holding for a thought longer than the last. "I'll get over it," he said. "It's just another in the family leaving soon, that's all. Wass is a k'night now. He's gotta go be a k'night."

Anshumat rubbed Toraph’s head, saying, “Don’t be sad that he’s going, be glad he was here.”

Toraph kept his eyes away. He smiled and found himself blinking rapidly.

The demigod continued. “Eventually, everyone must take their own paths, but those paths do not detract from what was.”

Toraph swallowed. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right." He slowly sniffed his lungs full and turned his large eyes to Anshumat. "Will you watch his back for me, Anshumat? I really want to have you both back to try those baked beans."

The demigod slowly nodded. “Yeah, I’ll do that. I’ll keep him safe, I promise,” they paused, lowering their hand to the hood, power snaking through their hand into the garment. “Tell you what. Every day, put up your hood and look north. When we return, even if we are beyond the horizon, you will see.”

"North," Toraph repeated. He recognised the word that some selka dialects used. "Upbeach. Got it. I'll put my hood up each day and-" He finished lifting his hood for effect and drew in a wheezing gasp. He clapped his hands over his eyes as he winced back as if he had been sprayed by a snake's venom, but it did not help him. After a stumble and a few ineffectual wipes over his eyes, he tugged the hood back and stopped.

He caught his breath and slowly opened his eyes again. He peered at Anshumat with his skin paling through his thin fur. "What was that!?"

Before Anshumat could answer, the sound of pounding feet drew their attention from the direction of the village. Toraph felt some deja vu as the two older brothers barrelled out towards the plants with dumb grins on their faces.

Wass was in the lead, even with his new club firmly gripped in one hand.

Anshumat swiftly rose to their feet, leaping over Toraph, and subtly avoiding the plant sprouts, ran to the edge of the field to intercept the two. As they approached, Anshumat stood in the way.

"Woah, watch it, Anshumat!" Wass attempted to dodge around, as did Anboor. Both made surprised noises as they found their faces clasped by each of Anshumat's hands. Their feet flew up in front of them from their remaining momentum.

Anshumat released them once they were fully horizontal, letting them thump onto their backs as the demigod stepped back and sat down in front of them. The two groaned in pain and rubbed their noses. Anshumat waited for the, to recover from the sudden winding.

"Argh, that hurt…" Wass strained to say.

Anboor ran a hand down his face. "What gives!? I was winning just then."

Wass coughed out a laugh. "You wish."

Anshumat looked to Wass, saying heatedly, “So your first act as a K’night and one of your last before leaving your brother for a journey is to trample his crops?”

The brothers' squirming and chuckling stopped.

Before either of them could respond, Anshumat looked at Anboor and admonished him with a similar intensity. “And have you so little care for your brother’s work or feelings that you would destroy his passion without so much as a second thought?”

Neither of the two moved except for the tiny pumping of their hearts at the base of their chests. They peered at one another in unison.

"Err," Wass ventured. "Sorry?"

Anshumat motioned to one of the bean sprouts, saying, “Sprouts do not emerge in a day. Surely he has warned you against trampling them, and yet, here you are, stopped only by force that should not have been needed. Why?”

Anboor heaved himself up to a sitting position. "They're right," he said as a matter of fact. "Toraph said we almost trampled the plants last time, remember?"

"Right," Wass agreed regretfully. He winced as he sat up. "I didn't know it was such a big deal. They're just plants, right?"

Anshumat shot their eyes to Wass, saying in return, “Why does it matter what it is? Your brother is clearly passionate about the project he is undertaking, and he made a request of you. What do the details matter? Do you hold your brother in so little regard that his word is not enough of its own right?”

Anger flashed in Wass' eyes. "What?! Of course not!" He said, leaning into his words. "Don't-"

Before Wass could finish, Anshumat interrupted, a terrible strength in the demigod’s voice that overpowered Wass’ protests, “Then show it! He’s in that field, tending to those sprouts, and he was devastated over how much he would miss you! Go over there, both of you, without harming a single leaf on any of his plants, and apologize,”

Wass sat frozen. His eyes still peered up from behind an angry brow, but his anger was quenched by the immensity of Anshumat's voice.

Anshumat stood up, shooting a look towards Toraph as they finished, “Prove that you value your brother!”

Toraph was looking on with much more fear than Wass or Anboor. He neither moved nor said a word.

Wass was the more decisive. He stood to his feet and began his walk across the field, eyes down at his feet as he carefully stepped over and around the little green and white plants in the dirt. Anboor, seeing no reason to defy Anshumat, followed along behind him.

Anshumat trailed behind in turn. Their blind eyes bored holes into the backs of the two brothers.

It barely took a tense half-minute to cross the plants. Wass and Anboor stood side by side opposite Toraph. The pair looked Toraph in the eyes.

"Sorry we trampled through your plants, bro," Wass said, low and sincere. "Sorry we didn't listen to you the first time."

Anboor added. "Yeah, sorry little bro." He put a hand on his chest. "Wass was just trying to cheer me up with that running race. We didn't mean to make you upset."

Wass nodded to confirm.

Toraph peered down and around to avoid their eyes. "Thanks," he said. "I should dig the holes in rows for the next time. Then when you come back, you can run right through them without trampling them."

"Pfaw." Wass grinned and reached out to put an arm around Toraph's head. "You come up with good ideas all the time, Toraph. How do you do that?"

Toraph did not struggle like he usually did against Wass' headlock, at least not after he was able to twist and hug Wass in return. Tears were forming on the corners of his closed eyes. Tears of sadness -- not the tears of Kirron's loss that all selka weep on the land.

Wass' smile faded. "Come on, it's not goodbye just yet." He pulled Toraph away enough to half-turn to address Anshumat. "Sorry if I pissed you off, too, Anshumat."

Anshumat simply shook their head, saying, “You needed a reminder of what’s important, that’s all.”

"Yeah, maybe," Wass conceded.

"We won't forget," Anboor added. "We don't forget. Even though we don't need to look after each other as much these days, we're there for our bros."

"Just like ma and pa were there for us," Toraph said.

At that, the three brothers went quiet. Not in an awkward manner, but in a quiet reminiscence.

Anshumat had neither seen nor heard of the parents of the brothers.

Toraph broke the silence first, looking up to Wass. "I asked Anshumat to watch your back, Wass. That way I'll sorta be there...but not really."

Wass pat a hand onto Toraph's head, giving Anshumat an unsure glance. "Thanks, buddy."



The k'nights had one last lunch with the village before packing up and moving on. Wass and Phialu had to travel light, like all the rest. 'Leave your goodbyes at the village, for your family and your stuff,' as Gralph put it. Wass had a tear-filled goodbye, with Toraph weeping the most and Anboor staying relatively stoic. Phialu had a goodbye that was terse and anxious. There were hugs with her family, but they were not good at goodbyes. Neither was Phialu.

Anshumat had it easy. He just had to thank the chief, upon Gralph's heavily forwarded suggestion.

They travelled for three days along the river bank. During the marches, the k'nights would sing or chant in a sort-of discordant unity. The songs ranged between bawdy tales of 'far downbeach women,' to mischief with tricking monsters, to the odd solemn humming piece. They were wordy and complex to the fresh ear but surprisingly easy to learn, and just as easy to join in. Hiphaeleon the Beautiful One and Kyko the Smiling One were in constant competition for the best singing voice.

Without fail, however, the k'nights' favourite song was 'the Drumming on the Sea.' It was a song with less of a melody as much as a cadence. It quickened and beat up in energy before everyone's voices unified in a cascading tone, like a receding wave.

The new initiates were not spared during the march. Gralph set them to little tasks to gauge and increase their skills. Whittling and stone knapping, amongst other distractions.

It was in the evenings, before sunset, where the rest of the energy was spent. That was when the k'nights sparred and pushed one another to surpass themselves.

Up until the evening of the third day, Anshumat had been fast enough to compensate for their lack of fighting skill with their club or borrowed spears. This time, in the shade of the thick trees against the quietly flowing river waters, Gralph approached the demigod with a new instructor.

"I'd like you to formally meet Karagetak," Gralph said, opening a hand to indicate the surprisingly unscarred and understated selka woman to his left. She wore a sharkskin cut to cover her torso and coconut husk wrappings around her feet. She held her club against her front with one hand and her wrist in the other, relaxed and sizing up Anshumat's spindly frame with a frown. "She's gonna help you fight," Gralph continued. "So pay attention."

Anshumat hefted their own club awkwardly, with a nod to Gralph. They responded, “Very well,” as they then shifted their blind gaze to Karagetak.

The woman looked right back at him. The mirroring stares gave them the feeling that it was not just mimicry, but that she saw some essence that they did not.

Gralph 'hmph'ed and walked to see to another k'night's training.

"I saw you spar with Yim and Reph," Karagetak said. "You ever fought with someone as quick as you?"

Anshumat simply said, “No, I have not.”

Karagetak opened her eyes a little wider and pointed to their club. Her words came out in a consistent stream. "You'd better hope you don't before you learn to use that thing. Someone just a little slower than you could lead you right into a bonk on the head, wha?"

The demigod gave a single look to the club they held, saying in return, “It is rather unwieldy for my tastes. What I would give for a blade.”

Then they looked back at the Selka, saying next, “What would you have me practice?”

"Two things," she quipped. "One - you call me Karag 'cos to say the rest is what everyone forgets. Two - you and me practice with the club so when you get a tasty blade you fight extra wieldy, wha?" She stepped up opposite Anshumat and pointed one step behind them. "Get back a little, I'll start counting and swinging at you, all you gotta do is block, see?"

Anshumat stepped back to make space for Karagetak.

She stepped up and swung slowly to Anshumat's left. "One."

Their clubs met with a light clack.

"Two," to the right. Clack. "Three," from above. Clack. "Four," from below. Clack. Karag kept her club up, making the movements for Anshumat to block as she spoke. "You know why we are going this slow, Anshu?" Clack.

Anshumat answered, “This is a pattern, I think. Is it a warmup?”

Suddenly, Karag's club was heading in from the left instead of the right. Anshumat found their club barring the wrong direction. They had to quickly switch to the left. Clack.

"It is a pattern," Karag held the pose. "And I only needed to be a little slower than you and it would have been a bonk-to-the-head pattern." She stepped back, lowering her club. "That is lesson one. If you don't got speed, you will block the wrong way. You want to make the bad guy do that first. Let's keep practicing, but this time, after I count to four, you take four swings at me with the same timing and we take turns, wha?"

“Very well,” Anshumat responded, waiting for her to count to four before they proceeded.

The four strikes from Karag were not the same as her previous combination. "One, two, three, four." Though Anshumat was wise enough to block without distraction.

When Anshumat took his turn, Karag spoke up before the count was up. "So, you're a traveller. What kinda gods they worship where you from?"

Anshumat kept their focus, though allowed themself to chatter, “The same as you do this far east -- under different names, and with different deeds ascribed to them.”

"Hm, that's boring," she said. Her four strikes took their course. "I always wondered if it were just Kirron, Delphina, and Kalmar. Just wonder if they got mamas and papas, wha? Do gods got mamas and papas, you think?"

“Yeah, some. I don’t know if I would say all, though,” Anshumat answered, continuing to focus on their own strike patterns.

Karag was not discouraged. "What are your mama and papa like?"

Anshumat answered curtly, continuing to focus on the strikes, “Not around anymore.”

The last syllable was the point at which Anshumat noticed Karag's last block angled in a new way -- one that parried and turned the butt of her club up at Anshumat's neck. Even at the slow speed, she came very close to landing a hit on Anshumat before they pulled back, but after that reflex, she showed some regret.

"So, two more things, this time I'm doing," Karag said with a finger on her chest. "First, I apologise for poking. I asked Gralph what'd make you think too much and I didn't know. Second, I tell you why." She stuck up two fingers. "It's lesson two: There are more ways than fighting to make the bad guy block the wrong way, wha?"

Anshumat didn’t respond to the apology, instead focusing on the lesson. They said, “Like what you just d-” Anshumat’s club suddenly snaked to the right, in the hopes of catching Karag by surprise.

Clap!

Anshumat found their club being held by Karag's raised hand. The webbing between her fingers was taut from her sure grip. She smiled. "You learn quick, wha? These lessons'll be done in better time than with Takos, and he's supposed to be the smart one."

"I hear you from here, Karag!" Takos cried out, right before pushing down his own sparring partner -- none other than Wass. Wass fell with a familiar thud, but flashed a confident smile over to Phialu nearby before springing up to fight on. The corner of Phialu's mouth quirked up.

"You are all so distracting!" Phorea the Keen, Phialu's opponent, put her in a headlock for her transgressions.

Then again, Phialu was smiling a lot more these days.



The next few days saw a swift change of tone.

Sparring and crafting gave way to mock fighting in groups, in and out of water. Basic survival skills gave way to codewords, body languages, and tactics. In turn, songs and poems gave way to lyrics pounded out against the ground like falling tree-trunks.

It was unreasonable to think that the vocation of a k'night would be peaceful and upbeat all the time, but the lack of knowledge was what perturbed the likes of Wass and Phialu. Not even Gralph knew what was ahead, only that it was something to be prepared for.

'We've had plenty of fun,' the huge selka said to them. 'Now we run short of it. Now is the time for earning more.'

On the other hand, the intense training built a sense of readiness and cohesion in all of them. It was its own kind of invigorating to gain enough strength to throw one's sparring partner to the ground for the first time under the chorus of unified hooting and braying. They all felt Kirron drumming. Drumming in their chests.

It was the middle of the eighth day when the k'nights finished another rendition of 'the Boat Floating Over the Mountain,' a marching and drowning tune that rumbled the throat, when they piped down to rest their vocal chords. Antoph the Strong and Humat the Spiritual tapered off the moment with their distinctively tight laughter, and Phialu stepped to walk abreast with Wass.

"How do you sing as loud as you do, Wass?" Phialu asked with one of her new smiles. "Each time I try to reach the end of the lines and be heard, I either squeal or hurt my throat."

Wass chuckled as they walked. "It's because you always speak too quietly. You need to practice by shouting."

Phialu pouted. "Shouting more, huh? That sounds awfully far-fetched, Wassamuttu."

"Why would I lie to you?"

She grinned. "Because you don't know what you're talking about, that's why." She lifted her chin. "My family doesn't shout. We're hunters."

Wass rolled his eyes and blew a raspberry. "I think you're a better k'night than you are a hunter. At least you're happier here." He looked ahead and mindlessly added. "Makes you prettier."

"Excuse me?" Phialu tilted her head, furrowing her brow and smiling.

"I said it makes you prouder!" Wass answered quickly.

Phialu punched him in the arm.

"Ow!" Wass rubbed the point of impact, but Phialu's expression relaxed and drew to the side. Wass followed her gaze to Gralph.

The huge k'night stood alert, back facing them. Everyone had gone quiet.

The recent song was forgotten. Kirron drummed slowly against their ribs.



Gralph sniffed at the air.

Something encompassing and soft sounded in the distant trees like a breeze. Growing. Nearing.

"JABS!" Gralph barked. "URCHIN!"

The k'nights dropped their heavy items and fell into a wide ring formation, a perplexed Wass and Phialu included. Each held their clubs up and scanned the foliage. Rephaemle the Fair and Yim the Brief -- each talented bowmen -- stayed in the centre, tugging bundles of spears off baggage and handing them over each k'night's shoulder.

In seconds, the k'nights stood protected on all sides by their comrades, spears at the ready. Gralph stood notably at the opposite side to Anshumat, scanning the trees.

Anshumat took one of the spears, gripping it in both hands as they adopted a middle iron gate stance. They scanned the surroundings, searching for any hint of unknown essences.

The shapes beyond the foliage took a moment to convince Anshumat's reason that they were alive. They were many-limbed, running through with a tumbling, hasty gait on two, four, and sometimes six legs. Some essence drove them, but it lacked a fundamental element Anshumat had never thought to name.

One of the wretched creatures rolled out from behind a bush and leapt for Takos with sharpened talons spread. Phorea thrust the dark shape to a stop with her spear. Two, five, seven more fell upon them in stranger shapes and threw themselves savagely against the formation, shrieking and braying. They were dark-grey-skinned, horned, clambering about with four red eyes each and a jaw of predatory sharp teeth. The smallest were the size and shape of cats, while the largest took on the imposing frames of middling apes.

The k'nights' spears worked to ward them off, but the hides of the grey creatures proved tough. Flint chipped, hafts snapped. The unluckier k'nights were quick to put their sacred clubs to bone-shattering use while Yim and Reph sniped the climbing beasts out of the trees with bow and arrow.

The creatures gave as well as they took. The claws left gashes in their skin and against their hide clothing. But as the grey-skins fell, more spilled out from the forest around them.

One of the beasts, in the shape of some abominable horned mandrill pummelled its way past its lessers, batted away spears, and threw itself at Anshumat.

The demigod immediately brought their spear up, thrusting it forward with a quick jab. The beast faltered and grabbed for the haft, but not before Anshumat had brought the spear right back to guard to prevent purchase. They pushed forward slightly, continuing to make quick jabs to keep the beast at a distance, though it only grew enraged. A huge-toothed roar heralded wild swings forward to threaten breaking the formation.

A nearby selka shrieked in pain with the sound of tearing skin.

Breaking their pattern of jabs, the demigod suddenly thrust forwards heavily, catching the beast off guard as it swung and stuck the spear point in one of its four tiny eyes. It bellowed and backed away.

Once the deed was done, they then looked and saw Antoph the Strong pulled back behind the line, his hand and knees pinning a thrashing grey-skin against the ground whilst slamming his fist into its nose at a dizzying rate. Both his arms poured with fresh red blood that flicked up with every heft of his arm. The beast stopped moving after five rapid crunches to its face and Antoph was immediately seen to by Reph, lest the enraged selka rejoin the fight.

"I crush the stones to sand and breeze them up into a whirlwind!
My hands are all the rising waves, I CRAAAAAAAAAASH!"


Through the din of slathering and croaking beasts, Kyko the Smiling One cried out the opening line to the Drumming on the Waves. A song they all knew. Every k'night that could speak bellowed out the next line.

"I pull the corpses out to rot and brown like kelp on beaches!
I tangle, kill, and pull, and pull, and SPLAAAAAAAAAASH!"


With the cascading pitch of the last word, Anshumat saw a bright red essence light up in every k'night.

"Galing, throwing, boom the trees will bend under our voices!
My heart will drum through clouds and dusk and FLAAAAAAAAASH!"


Anshumat permitted themself to join the hymn, as they returned to impaling the beasts upon their spear. Continuing to jab at every grey horror that got near, the Demigod took advantage of every momentary opportunity to strike the spear deep into the exposed joints, extremities, or organs of the beasts.

"Storm has sung my song and cried to every chief of selka!
We thunder 'til we're Kirron's folk re-BOOOOOOOOORN!"


The melee struggled on for long enough to sing the song halfway over again, though the moments between the crescendos drew out like minutes. The k'nights lost more blood than nerve throughout. But like a wave finally crashing, the beasts drew away. The song broke into a raucous cry of triumph. Those creatures made lame by spear and club were caught and broken, but Gralph barked over the excitement "Let 'em run!" and the k'nights stayed back to taunt from a distance.

The smell of blood and bile finally filled the nostrils. The ground was laden with dark grey bodies and red stains.

Hiphaeleon the Beautiful pumped his arm. "The phantoms of the land are NO MATCH for k'nights!"

"Yeooh!" Almost all of the k'nights shouted out.

A few catching their breath poked at the dead phantoms in question. Humat and Antoph winced and clutched at their wounds. Yim the Brief, Phialu, and Wass stood shivering in place.

Takos the clever picked up a smaller corpse by a horn and quirked his head at its four eyes. "What in the depths are these things?"

A loud crunch sounded as Gralph stomped upon the neck of a barely breathing grey beast. "No good, that's what they are," he said. His face, as he turned around, was a deep, concerned frown. "Eyebiter, you ever seen these things before in your travels?" He asked.

Anshumat walked over to one of the corpses, prodding it with their foot, as they answered, “I have spotted them in chase before, but they have never taken the initiative to spring an ambush upon me.”

Anshumat then turned to look over the party, saying next, “I may not have known much on the art of fighting beforehand, but it seems I picked up quick in sparring.”

"I saw you get one in the eye, heheh," Phassam said, hardly flinching under a growing purple lump over his left eye socket.

Kara shared Gralph's concern. "There gotta be a name for these things, wha? Wild beast'a different shapes working together with more eyes and limbs each than most things have."

"Spiderspooks," Kyko suggested.

"Ragers," Humat gave.

"Scratchers," Antoph said, bitterly clutching his bleeding arms.

"Eaters," Takos the clever said with the most sincerity. "Look at them. Their teeth and claws make their stomachs like nothing. They were made to eat. They're eaters."

Gralph ended the conversation there. "Wash up in the river," he ordered. "Get some skins to tie up your bleeding else Kirron won't like it. We move once I breath in and out fifty times, and you all know how fat and out of breath I can get."

The k'nights scurried to get themselves sorted, whereas Gralph gave Anshumat a knowing look. He nodded to one side for them to follow and walked out of the way of the rest. Anshumat silently followed.

Once in private, Anshumat spoke, “I’m guessing those are why you wished to go upriver.”

"Mm, a few of the reasons why, yeah," Gralph said. He flicked his spear to one side, making a line of dark droplets along the dirt. "How are you faring? Are you injured?"

Anshumat gave themselves a quick look over, saying, “Uninjured. As long as I kept them beyond the tip of my spear, they couldn’t hope to touch me. I would worry more for the others, who did not fare so well.”

They shot a look towards the direction of the party, as if to emphasize the wounded in it.

Gralph leaned his head to one side, looking around Anshumat the same way. "I do. You're just quiet, so I can't say if you'd tell me." He sniffed. "What do you think of the selka, anyway? The k'nights, the tribespeople, all of them."

The demigod huffed, falling quiet for some time before answering, “It’s complicated, I suppose. I travel the world as they would for a reason. What is a mortal to us? We who live years beyond their comprehension, with our feuds and our triumphs. When we fall, we fall farther than they could ever imagine,”

Anshumat continued, “and when we are victorious, it is an epic that dwarfs the collective efforts of all mortals. Our anger can wipe entire planets clean, and our jubilations emerge ascendent. They are shaped by fate; we are shapers. We cut the world as we please, they are but mere subjects to it.”

The Demigod paused, looking down at the ground for a few seconds, before finishing, “Why, then, must they be included in the great plays of gods? Why must they be subject to forces so greatly beyond their ability, that they are but ants to an elephant?”

After a quiet second of staring back at Anshumat's empty eyes, Gralph sighed. "Don't got solid answers for all those big questions, Anshu, but I know why I made 'em." He stepped across to one side to look over towards the river. "I'm learning from them. There are all these hidden things in this world they're helping me find. They'll help you find some things, too." He blinked across to the demigod. "Listen up. I have to tell you something that you'll keep to yourself, alright?"

Anshumat solemnly nodded.

"Up ahead is something that I could deal with, but Gralph couldn't." His nostrils flared. "When we reach it, we're not going to charge in and clean it up, because even if we live longer, we might not be around forever, and these mortals have to know how to take care of themselves so they can keep discovering. When I say so, you'll go with Reph and the others back to the river mouth." His eyes softened. "No one can make you stick around, but give 'em some help, would ya? You've got a lot to learn yourself."

“I made a promise that I would see Wass back to his village after this journey. I’m not leaving until I’ve done that,” Anshumat firmly responded.

"Well...kid, don't lose it if Wass doesn't make it."

“He’s going to make it,” was all the Demigod said as they turned to return to the group.

Gralph let him leave, looking on neutrally. He turned his nose up to sniff the air.

The march resumed quietly after a few minutes.







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Hidden 19 days ago Post by Commodore
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Commodore Condor

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About 45 years from the Soul Heist




The Ihomakwoi had swung far to the west, both to avoid the Eye of Desolation and concerns of division among the Nebulites but also that Ohannakeloi thought a westerly approach to the final destination would be most effective. The journey had been uneventful after the communications difficulties had been worked out between the Vallamir and Nebulites. Over Atokhekwoi now they approached the western mountain ranges.

Solun spoke, “Divine Ohannakeloi, the Nebulites and the Vallamir have gathered on the walls as you requested. May I ask, for what purpose are they there?”

“You will see when we cross over the mountains.”

After that the Nebulite fell silent, waiting with the deity. Aefsige soon ascended up to the top of the tower, they had both become somewhat useful servants to Ohannakeloi, others tended to listen to them when there were any issues. It was something to think upon certainly. Solun caught Aefsige up on the extent of what was learned, and the two sat in to wait with the Divine Crab.

The Ihomakwoi was flying lower than the mountain peaks, significantly so as to obstruct the view beyond, it could fly higher, of course but that was evidently not desired by Ohannakeloi. As the flying keep finally came close to the mountains it rose above, showing the view beyond. An enormous river stretched off into the distance, many other rivers and streams from the mountains could be seen but this was larger than any other. Many smaller bodies fed into it, they could not even see its end. The land was covered in trees, a vast forests, the only interruptions being where it grew too steep for uninterrupted coverage, or where a river flowed. Ohannakeloi spoke out to the masses along the walls.

“I have come to realize that my keep may not be big enough for the population that I have brought to it. Thusly I have instead brought all of you to a new homeland along the great river Ihemol that you see before you. This is not the end of my gifts onto you all, Vallamir and Nebulite alike.” The Ihomakwoi flew over the grand river, following down into the immense valley between the ranges of the western mountains. Ohannakeloi resumed speaking, this time with his words came divine power echoing knowledge into the heads of all those assembled.

“I grant onto you powerful knowledge for living in the lands below, although the Nebulites know the secrets of stone working now the Vallamir will as well. More importantly is new knowledge known to neither people, the proper management of fire for grand many uses, the usage of clay to make ceramic materials, knowledge of engineering of structures, as well as important knowledge of the effects and usage of plants and materials you may find here to make medicines, knowledge of hygiene to ensure good health and good conditions, knowledge of the tanning of animal hide to make leather and finally knowledge of the making of tools for the proper application of all that you know.”

Ohannakeloi spoke into the stunned silence as the Ihomakwoi flew on, “Nebulites still have more knowledge of farming and woodworking that the Vallamir should endeavor to learn if you wish to do well in turn. However, I will now say this. Three Days. These next three days shall be a celebration before you will commence work to make your new home along the banks of the Ihemol. On the fourth day you will be joined by other servants of mine and you will find the grand task ahead of you lessened with their help. Rejoice!”

Ohannakeloi turned to Solun and Aefsige, “Open as many of the wine jars as necessary, the Ihemol is clean enough to drink from should need water, I will be gone for the three days to gather some of my other servants, see to it that all goes well here.”

Affirmations were granted as both went to try to organize the chaos that came from the divinely-ordained party.

The Ihomakwoi had settled upon the eastern bank of the Ihemol, near where it was joined by another river which was given no name before Ohannakeloi left the expanding revelry in the Buajaoi.




Hase never slept well, he had taken up a great deal of influence being the only real authority from the first ones in the north west, Ihokhe was here somewhere but he had disappeared, only faint traces could be found, a conversation there, whispers of a legendary founder of the entire people. It didn’t matter really, the others of course led the Ihokhetlani to the far corners of Atokhekwoi, to the glory of Ohannakeloi. It was a large responsibility and he never knew if he was doing right in the guidance of Ohannakeloi, he prayed but gotten little in terms of direction even if answers were given. He lay troubled, one word woke him quite quickly.

“Hase!”

Stood before him on a pillar of stone was his God, Ohannakeloi, looking far more magnificent than he remembered, Hase rolled into kneeling before him. “Ohannakeloi you have returned to us!”

His face stayed facing downward but he could hardly stay completely respectful, to be woken by ones God was quite an excitement, he hoped Ohannakeloi would understand.

“Yes I have, after far far too long I should say. There is much to tell, but there are some other followers of mine that you will need to meet, and they are in need of guidance.”

“Lead the way, Blessed Divine Ohannakeloi. Are they far?”

The Ihokehtlani priests that had stayed with Hase began to wake, and quickly awakened others and moved into reverent positions as they could manage.

“Not too far, I will walk with you, there is much to speak of.”


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Hidden 18 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Karamir

&





He stood alone in a forest, nature surrounding him on all sides. He was back on Kalgrun, he realized. How he had gotten there, he did not know. He looked down to see that his cloak and weapons were gone; he was dressed in furs. What had happened?

"This is life. I made you so you could experience it. In order to experience it, you must survive. And in order to survive, you must be able to defend yourself." The voice was familiar. Someone he had met before. Who was it? What was his name?

The stick caught him in the back of the head, but he felt no pain. He fell to his hands and knees. He remained there for a moment, and then pushed himself back up on shaky legs, brushing the dirt off.

A torrent of water appeared as if from nowhere, and swept him away. The ground seemed to vanish, and all he could do was flail about, desperately searching for something - anything - to grab onto.

“You escaped your birthplace with a certain vigor as ignorant as it may be and devised an insurmountable plan.”

Another familiar voice, this one he recognized well enough. ”Diana?” he burbled. Then he felt his hand catch the edge of something, and he pulled himself up, above the water and onto a black umbrella. Yes, this he knew. It was how he had escaped from… what was that place called? And why had he escaped? His clothes had changed now. He was no longer wearing furs. Instead, he had a suit. Wait, didn’t that come later-

Then suddenly his surroundings changed, and the umbrella became an obsidian platform in the midst of a forest. What platform, and what forest, he did not know. An unknown voice whispered to him to find his own basket. What did that mean? An orb lay nearby. He picked it up, looked into it, and bristled at the sight - savage, humanoid beasts devouring a child.

Suddenly, he was lying on a different platform, one much larger, and made of stone. It floated in an empty void. There were pillars at the edges, a raised throne in the center, and above that, a mirror. Once more he rose to his feet, and standing before him was misshapen woman with odd sticks protruding from her eyes.

”Vrog?” he asked, confused.

“There is a power recently discovered by a child of gods. Money, 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 money, you can bend these elements as you will.” lectured the one Karamir believed was Vrog.

Wait… this wasn’t…

Now he was in a library. Karamir had never seen one before, yet somehow he knew what it was. The shelves were lined with books. He walked down an aisle, and plucked one at random. Runes appeared across the page. “Why does your existence matter?” it asked.

”Why does it matter?” he asked aloud, and then a sword pierced his back. Now he had his cloak and robe. A tall woman in black armour stood before him, a wicked smile on her face. Laurien, he somehow knew, as he fell to his knees, feeling a sense of betrayal that left him both hurt and enraged. ”Why?” he demanded.

”A secret,” was all she said.

He coughed blood, then Laurien flicked her wrist. Something broke inside him, and then he was falling forward…

...and upward.



Karamir jolted awake, sucking in a desperate breath as he frantically looked at his surroundings.

”Karamir! Karamir! It’s okay! Just breath, breath! You’re safe here.” came a sweet voice. She stood in front of him, a strange being, one vaguely familiar. Her arms were just above him, almost as if she had been, at one point, holding him down.

Karamir sat up, wincing as a dull pain struck his side, and a hand went for his weapon, only to find it gone, but he still wore his cloak. His shirt had been removed, someone had changed him into a pair of white pants, and he was lying in a bed. Karamir recalled what he had been doing before this, and thoughts of alarm surged through his head. He looked up at the familiar stranger. ”Who are you?” he demanded, eyes narrowing.

”I-It’s me… Arya. Don’t you remember?” Arya said, taking on a concerned look.

”No, I don’t,” he said, expression shifting to confusion. He felt a faint itch in the back of his head, but ignored it. ”How did I get here?” he asked.

Arya sat down on the side of the bed and sighed. ”That’s… Well…” she cleared her throat, ”What do you remember last?”

”I was fighting, I was stabbed, and then I was fleeing,” he answered rather bluntly. ”So how did I get here?”

”As far as I can tell… Your cloak brought you here on a will of its own, unconscious and dying. With his Holiness Shengshi’s help, we were able to heal you, but…” she grew silent.

”But what?” Karamir asked, before adding. ”And who is Shengshi?”

”Shengshi is a God, just like Kalmar, do you remember him?” Arya asked, avoiding his first question.

”No,” Karamir answered, furrowing his brow. ”You say ‘remember’ like I met him before, but I never did.”

”Karamir… Who do you remember?” she asked.

”What do you mean?” His confusion seemed to deepen. ”Do you want my life story?”

”Yes.” she said simply.

”I was… I was…” he scrunched his eyebrows together even further. ”Fighting someone on a beach. Then he told me to leave. I travelled through a forest. I don’t know how long. Somehow a river washed me into the ocean, and I ended up on an umbrella in the middle of the ocean with a woman called Diana. She… did things to me. Nightmares, and tricks… there are gaps, but it went on for years… then she was taking me somewhere. After that I remember walking through a different forest, with a brown bird, and then… I met Chopstick… no, Vrog… wait… neither of those are right…”

He closed his eyes and put his hands against his temples as a headache began to come on. ”I… I… no, none of this makes sense.”

A small hand fell upon his and Arya smiled at him softly. ”It’s okay. Just relax, take a deep breath.”

”What did you do to me?” he asked, his voice half-accusatory and half-panic.

”Oh Karamir.” she said, a tear falling down her cheek. ”I didn’t do anything to you.”

”You said you healed me but,” Karamir countered. ”What went wrong?”

”Your soul was decayed.” she said, looking to the floor. ”It explains why your memories are gone or scrambled. I’m-I’m so sorry, Karamir.” she said, her voice breaking.

”Decayed?” he asked, sounding shocked. ”How? I…” then recollection struck him. He lowered his hands and clenched them into fists. ”Laurien…” he hissed through grit teeth, a cold fury in his voice.

”Yes… Laurien hurt you. But we are going to fix your soul, okay? A plan is already in motion. We just have to find my father and he can heal you.” Arya said.

Karamir did not seem to hear her. ”Where is she?” he asked. ”And where is my weapon?”

"I don't know where she is." Arya began, "But I do know that you aren't leaving here in your condition. So sit down." she said in a stern voice.

The latter part was because while she was talking, Karamir had tried to stand up. He grimaced as a hand fell to his scar, and then grunted in response to her words. ”I can walk,” he protested.

"I don't doubt your ability to walk but please, don't over exert yourself." she said.

With a sigh, he sat back down. His memories were in disarray, his soul was decayed, he still felt traces of pain from his old wound, and who knows what else about him had changed? He looked up at Arya. ”You seemed surprised that I didn’t remember you…” he recalled. ”How did we know each other?”

"This is actually the first time we've met, physically. A long time ago we shared a dream and danced, but never again." she said with a sad smile.

That answer disappointed him. ”So we didn’t know each other very well,” he said, eyes downcast. ”How much can you tell me about what I’ve forgotten?”

Arya shook her head. ”I… I’m sorry. I don’t know a lot about you to be honest. I know that you were created by Kalmar, God of the Hunt along time ago and that you wandered Kalgrun for a time before being with… Diana for even longer. Then you were physically at the Palace of Dreams, home to K’nell, god of sleep. You must have left some point and eventually found yourself upon the Dragon’s Foot.”

”My earliest memory,” Karamir said, thinking back, ”Is of a man wearing furs and a moustache beating me with a stick for nine days, and then leaving me to fend for myself. Was that Kalmar?” he asked, a bitter edge in his voice.

”He… Beat you with a stick?” Arya said angrily.

Karamir nodded, feeling anger rise within himself as well. ”That’s what I remember. I had a stick too, but how was I supposed to win against a god?” He shook his head. ”Doesn’t matter. Some day, after my soul is repaired, I’ll figure out how to become a god too.”

Arya balled her fists before breathing out heavily. ”Beating a god is foolish… but becoming one? It’s never been done.”

”That doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Karamir pointed out. ”The gods we have now, didn’t they all come from somewhere?”

”They came from beyond the barrier, by the Architect himself, Karamir. He rules this universe. To become a god is… Basically unheard of. The effort, whatever it would be, would probably kill a mortal.” she said grimly.

”And how do you know that?” Karamir asked her.

”How do I know what?” she said crossing her arms.

”That it would be fatal,” Karamir said.

”Look at yourself. You got stabbed, then had your soul flayed, by a mortal. You seriously can’t think it would be easier than that?”

”I don’t expect it to be easy,” Karamir said with a slight shake of his head. Her pessimism was beginning to annoy him, and they had strayed off topic. ”When we met in the ‘Palace’,” he began, trying to get the discussion back on track, ”What did I do? What did I say?”

”We danced, and talked. Mostly about myself.” she said quietly.

”And did I say anything about myself?” Karamir asked. ”What I wanted, where I was going, anything I had learned?”

”I...I can’t remember. You may have wanted to travel the world and learn all you could.” she said solemnly.

”Sounds like something I’d want. Some good it did me,” he sighed. ”Do you know who Abanoc is?”

”The God of… Of… Uh.. Recording. Yeah, recording. Never met him.” she shrugged.

”I don’t remember meeting him either,” Karamir said, ”but I must have at some point. Laurien attacked me when I suggested going to him for help.”

”So that’s why…” she tipped her head.

”Do you know anything about Laurien?” he asked next. ”Who she is, what secret she was trying to hide, why she thought killing someone who offered to help her was the best way to hide it?” He could not hide the anger in that last question.

She turned to him, her expression conveying brokenness. ”She’s my sister. The secret she did not want revealed, was that she stabbed Orvus and then did something with him. Where he is, no one knows. I’m… Truly sorry for what she did to you.”

”If you didn’t have a hand in it, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Karamir told her. ”As for Laurien, if she likes to stab people, I think it’s time someone returned the favour. When I’m recovered, I’ll teach her the importance of following her own advice.”

She suddenly jumped and said, ”No! No… She’s my sister. I’ll deal with her.”

Karamir frowned and gave her a skeptical look, but decided to let the topic slide for now. ”How long before my soul can be… repaired?” he asked instead.

”I wish I had more answers, instead of telling I don’t know… But that’s that. We have to find Orvus… Arryn is currently out looking for him and… The one likely place he could be… Kalmar is going, for better or for worse. The world… It’s under siege right now.” she said, crossing over to the window, and opening the curtains. The land was dark, a storm lay in the distance, pierced by balls of fire.

Karamir grit his teeth and stood, walking up behind her. ”Is this place safe?” he asked her.

”Relatively… I think. The Marble Star is probably safer but you were asleep, and I did not want to move you.” Arya said, staring out at the sky.

”So I’m stuck here until Orvus is found, and all this,” he gestured out the window, ”is over.” he sighed.

”Have faith, Karamir. We will fix you, and we will fix all of this, and then we will find Laurien and… Punish her accordingly.” she said, her voice wavering.

He reached forward and put a hand on her shoulder. ”I’m sorry if my words were too harsh,” he said, not truly feeling sorry but instead recognizing the need to remain on good terms with her. ”If there’s so much I forgot about the world, then I need someone to help me remember. Can you help with that?” he pleaded.

She turned to him and smiled faintly, ”Of course… Come on, I’m sure you’re hungry.” she said sweetly.

Karamir smiled back. It was not a genuine smile, because although the answer was pleasing, he simply couldn’t find it inside him to be happy - he only felt a hollow emptiness where the emotion should be. ”Where is my weapon, if you don’t mind me asking?”

She pointed to a shelf on the far wall, before walking off. ”Come downstairs, when you’re ready. You’ll find some clothes underneath your weapon too.” she said, tilting her head, before walking down the stairs.






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Hidden 17 days ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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“I am hunger-starving,” a voice said.

“Yes-yes. Wait-Patience, almost through maze-labyrinth,” another said.

An aroiox looked to another before it called out, “Kavka, how much wait-longer?” Many had grown thin, the young had already succumbed to starvation as the two brothers attempted to maintain some form of rational order over the people. But the dissent was growing as it grew clearer with each day that the gods had abandoned them, leaving them to die when they said it was their destiny to leave the accursed maze. Perhaps, it was because they had not done what the gods wanted, maybe.

“Know-not,” Kavka said, looking forward, before turning to his brother, “Brother-kin?”

Yreu only shook his head.

“We lack-desire food-meat! Young-kin starve, eggs spoil!” the one who had asked Kavka, stepping towards the brothers with a clear anger in her voice. Kavka only turned in response, looking down upon the one who dared approach. Soon they’re chests touched as the two pushed their weights against each other, the female and the male seemed almost equal in their weight. “You leader-tyrant! Lead us to death-stave!,” she growled.

“Maze-thing by creator-gods design! They will deliver-give food!” Kavka snapped as he pushed the female to the ground, her arms scraping against the stone floor of the maze. He felt the hand of Yreu on his shoulder, clearly attempting to reign Kavka in.

“Brother-kin, we must-need to keep move-stepping. The god-creators are test-watching us,” Yreu said calmly, but his brother already pulled away and stepped towards the female.

“God-creators, wish-desire us to live-thrive. No food-meat,” Kavka said looking upon the angered female who scrambled to her feet, attempting to push back against the male who only put her back onto the ground.

“Food-meat…” Kavka said as he watched blood drip from a cut on the female’s forearm.

“Kavka, do not!” Yreu squawked, the talons of his hands digging into the brothers shoulder. Then, he looked up. “Brother-kin, look!”

Kavka looked up, many of the aroiox following to see a sight that would only mean bad omens for the rest of eternity. The eyes of the maze, they closed. The aroiox waited to see if they would reopen, hoping that their creators had not abandoned them. But the eyes did not reopen, and to the children of Eurysthenes and Vakk, it meant that they had lost their favor.

Kavka looked down at the now terrified female, her blood pooling on the stone floor.

Hunger.

Hunger.

FEAST-KILL




60 years later


The Maze.

Vakk remembered this place well, though the pillars of spikes that had erupted from the walls were certainly recent addition that it could do without. It made travel somewhat troublesome at times, as it either had to go through small spaces or taking the time to break through the great pillars of the maze. In addition to the spikes, it made the twisting labyrinth even more of a special hell to get through as the spikes would form new walls or even form new tunnels to be climbed through.

Even with a god’s speed, this was a tedious endeavour, but Vakk was determined to find those that Eurysthenes had abandoned to their fate while That One watched idly as the enigma took a god’s memory. Vakk took one step after another, focusing on its task, not allowing its mind to cloud its judgement on what needed to be done. However, the maze always had a way of playing with one’s mind, even without Eurysthenes being there to play tricks or suddenly change the way. It was almost as if the maze itself was relaying the abandonment to Vakk in such a way to merely be insidious, but it knew the maze was not doing it, but it was Vakk’s own mind.

”We abandoned them, I could have left to save the Aroiox,” Vakk said to itself, tearing open its mouth as it spoke. It crossed its arms behind his back, walking along a narrow pathway that the pillars had left untouched, keeping all its senses focused on anything that may lead it to the children it had left.

”We abandoned them, but I could have stepped in and brought sense to Eurysthenes,” Vakk spoke, its voice was emotionless as it continued his way through the maze. A left turn then a right turn. It had not been there long, but it could already feel that the repetition of the maze was getting to it as everything seemed the same, almost indistinguishable except for the pillars being jutted out in different locations. This place was lifeless and bleak without Eurysthenes’ additions.

Almost too bleak for Vakk’s tastes.

Vakk stopped as it felt his foot kick something away, the rattling leading to a cacophony of a graveyard, and the sight that befell it would be one that it would never be able to rid of itself. For the first time in That One’s existence as a god, it would feel remorse and pain for its actions as it fell to its knees. The sight that befell him was one of a thousand bones, blood stained the walls and rotted, shrivelled meat clung to the teeth of those who had given into hunger.

”No…” it said, sadness filling every whole that had been created where it had torn out its anger.

”I-I could not stop this” it said, remorse following the sadness.

”Eurysthenes did this,” it said, blame wanting to snuff out what truth existed in the situation, before its hands clasped the side of its head. Vakk sobbed, ”...Eurysthenes fault.”

There was a silence as Vakk did needless breaths between sobs, knowing the feeling of abandonment that Li’Kalla had felt, knowing the pain of having something taken from it like mortal who had lost a loved one. Now it knew, it knew what true pain was.

Death felt like nothing compared to this pain.

”I let this happen,” Vakk said, truth breaking the blame it wanted to keep just convince itself that there were no alternative fates. But the truth was what hurt the most, knowing that it should have stepped in where Eurysthenes had failed. That it should have stepped in to be the savior of these lost and misguided souls. That it should have voiced its opinions to Eurysthenes rather than being silent.

But those times were long passed.

Vakk went and picked up a skeleton, wanting to cradle a being he regarded as a child, only for the skeleton to fall to pieces. Vakk hunched over and let out wails and sobs so loud and so painful that even the light of the Heliopolis would fade and be washed out. There was a way for it to have saved his children and it had failed them and it had failed Eurysthenes, the only one who had taken the time to truly try to change Vakk for the better. It had failed in every regard and it was those failings that inflicted an additional pain to the saddened god.

”No…” it rejected, casting away the truth. It would not be a failure and it would let all of Galbar know that its creation had thrived, even in death.

”My children will live the life they deserved! They will live a life that was robbed of them by my failings” the voices cried it in pain and anguish as Vakk jammed a fist into the ground as a few of its tendrils slithered through the air to grasp some bones. There, the god of speech would craft, there it would perfect an artifact capable of bringing back its children and erase one of his many failures. The children shall hear the music of life once more as it took the pieces of a stone and molded metal through it.

From a leg bone, Vakk would craft a hilt, forcing it into a place alongside a skull before it would attach a small chain made from ligaments not yet decayed, forced into a metallic structure. It would force the skull into a bell, the only indication of it being otherwise being the hollow eye sockets and the bone that made the hilt.

Vakk raised the bell high, allowing for the light of day to gaze upon the unholy creation that would go against the very balance of nature itself.

”I know what it is like to lose,” It said, casting away its rationality to have the bell toll once.

Then the bells would toll twice. Then thrice. So on and so forth.

Soon, a sickly green pulse erupted from the bell, darkening the sky as a gas rained from above, touching the bones and remains that belonged to the once beloved people. The bones began to shift, slowly moving to reconnect with parts that they had long disconnected from, slowly becoming what they once were before the failure of the creator.

”You are Vakk’s chosen! I did not want this, I wanted you all to thrive! I wanted to see you all live lives full and happy! Now, I give you all a chance again! Come my children, live again!”

The bones rose, souls collecting within them as eyes of the same sickly green began to form in those hollow sockets, the forms of long dead birds looking to their creator and savior, the one had first gave them life and the one that brought back life where there was death. However, as Vakk looked down upon them, it saw not life created from death, it saw a living death, beings that had been born of unnatural causes. However, That One had done what it had promised, to bring them back from death.

They looked onto their creator, unable to express emotion and unable to feel warmth or cold. The undead merely were.

“My children! I am sorry for having abandoned you for so long! But now, I have given you the chance to live again! You will all know the touch of life, the touch of my life!” Vakk said, its tendrils moving to take the bell from its hand.

Then there was silence. The dead did not move, they did not speak but they did stare blankly at their god.

“We cannot know life for we do not live,” a voice from the crowd said, “We are but fragments, Lord Vakk.”

Vakk grew confused as the skeletons spoke in complete words, not as the broken words and conjunctions that the aroiox had typically used. These souls, they were not the same aroiox nor were they proper souls created from the Pyres of Katharsos. No, these souls were otherworldly, soul ash bound by magic in a dead form that did not bleed or age, a form that could only rot until nothing was left.

”N-nonsense, my child! You live again, but it is my life that I bestow upon thee! You live in forms that cannot die again, in forms incapable of hunger and pain! Come my children, rejoice!”

There was silence. No joy to be found in the husks of children, but after a moment, there was but merely a polite collection of clapping as their creator watched over them. Nothing they did was natural, their movement was shambles, their speech was but mere echoes, their life but a farce.

But Vakk was blind to the truth, blind to the fact that the beings he brought back from death were but mere husks. He would lead them, and he would settle them on Galbar.

His children would thrive.







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Hidden 17 days ago Post by Not Fishing
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Kalmar's Chosen




Progress on the makeshift village at the Oracle was coming along nicely. For days they had tried to erect crude shelters, and after many designs, they had finally found some that worked. A number of these shelters had already been constructed around the temple, and while they were easy for a single animal to knock down, they kept out the wind and rain well enough.

It was a great help, too, because others had begun to arrive in the village. Some were taken in, but others had to be turned away - the simple reality was that there were only so many people to feed. Still, they did their best to help those they did not take in, either in the form of directions, or the gift of a small amount of supplies. Valys felt a twinge of guilt, not entirely certain that meager help would be enough, but unfortunately they all had to face the reality of the situation.

One day, when Ewen and his hunters had brought down a particularly bountiful hall, Valys and her subordinates sat by a fire discussing what comes next.

"What do you mean what comes next?" Myla asked. "We keep ourselves fed so we can continue protecting the place. I thought was all there was to it?"

Karlyn frowned. "She means what do we build next," he said with a shake of his head. "There could be better ways to survive than what we have now. Sturdier shelters, smarter hunting tactics, new sources of food or water... we just need to think of them."

"Well," Lena began, "maybe we could-" but she couldn't finish her sentence. Her eyes widened, and she pointed up to the sky.

"Kalmar's beard..." muttered Karlyn in awe and horror.

Valys followed the gaze, and in the sky she saw hundreds of meteors. The camp fell silent, as everyone else had taken notice, and all they could do was stare... until Valys snapped them out of it. "Chosen!" she shouted, bringing everyone to attention. "Into the Temple!"



Forgeguard




"It was just a fight. You shouldn't let it get to you," Frea said soothingly.

"That fool Leske 'ought to learn respect," Ivar grumbled. The two sat on the plateau edge, overlooking the sea.

"You were friends once, you know," Frea reminded him. "And we're supposed to protect this place. How can we do that if you can't trust each other?"

"Aye, that's true enough," Ivar agreed, "but trust goes both ways, and he hasn't done a damn thing to earn mine back. It's more than just the fight, you know. I've seen him staring at the Forbidden Cage, the thing Kalmar told us not to use and trusted us to guard."

Frea frowned. The Forbidden Cage had indeed sparked curiosity from Leske, but he was not the only one; many others had been puzzled or fascinated about it, and they had given it similar glances. Rald was one such example. The Cage had since been moved to the top of the central tower, now known as the Winter Spire, and always had three guards watching over it. "Listen," she said, dropping the soothing tone. "You are the two best fighters from your tribe. Dozens of those tools have been created, and soon some will eventually come to claim them. We need you both. One way or another, you have to work it out, and it's your job to figure out how."

And with those words, Frea rose and walked away. Ivar was about to call something after her, but thought better of it. She was right, he knew. It was time to make amends.

By the time he had risen to his feet and stretched, however, the meteors had begun to fall. He stared on with a look of surprise, having never seen something like this before, and then turned back to the Frozen Citadel. "We're in danger!" he shouted as he began to run.






Hidden 16 days ago Post by Lord Zee
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Tears and Rain





She knelt in front of a puddle, staring down at her reflection. The person who gazed back up at her, was someone only vaguely familiar. She felt broken and lost and afraid. Leaving her children behind… Was like leaving a piece of her soul behind. They grounded her, they made her feel loved and she loved them so much… But for their own safety, she had to leave them. She had to. It was the only way, even if it felt wrong.

She felt so tired. Even more so than ever before. She had flown for a day, crossing into the shrubland of the deserts edge, watching as the world around her came crashing down. She realized, after the meteors didn’t stop, that Abraxas was the culprit. Who else would it have been? No… He was trying to destroy the world. Yet she couldn’t find it in her to care about that. All she could do was run… Just like Arae had wanted.

Arae. The family goddess, who tore families apart. It was ironic.

But Arae was only one god who she was mad at. It all came back to Li’Kalla.

Li’Kalla had opened the oldest wound she had, and because of that, she sought validation for everything after. It was not, she realized, her fault. But the Goddesses. Yet she still… She still wanted to be loved by her. She didn’t know why.

And as she wandered through the shrubland, the sun beating down upon her, she thought of Li only and Silver.

Hours passed. At noon, when the heliopolis was at its strongest, a lonely, pure white cloud passed overhead and shielded Laurien from the blinding, burning light. There, from a crack in the cloud, a figure erupted. Steam trailed behind it beautifully, turning into drops of water that reflected small rainbow halos each. The figure approached, flapping its great white wings gracefully.

Laurien froze.

As the figure landed a few meters in front of Laurien, there was no mistaking her. The beautiful Goddess Li’Kalla was there, looking at her with icy gray eyes.

Slowly her expression went from anger to sadness as Laurien fell to her knees before the Goddess, exhausted as she was. She looked up at her with tears beginning to flow. ”W-Why are you here…? I-I didn’t pray…” she said in a shaky voice.

Li’Kalla looked at the cloudy sky above them, then back down at Laurien and sighed, closing her eyes. With her eyes still closed, the Goddess walked up to Laurien, knelt down in front of her and embraced her in a gentle hug. After a short moment, she patted the back of Laurien’s head and guided her face onto her shoulder. “There, there.”

The sudden display of affection was something Laurien did not think would ever be possible, but she did not push the Goddess away, nor make any attempt to fight. She simply let herself be held as she cried. Eventually she asked, ”A-Are you going to p-punish me too?”

”Why would I, Laurien?” Li’Kalla asked softly.

”Because I stabbed Orvus.” she whispered.

”Ah,” Li’Kalla leaned back and broke the embrace, ”Did he not kill your lover after sending you away from her?”

”Yes.” she said softly, wiping away her tears. ”Arae came… After ten years… And she cursed me and I had to leave my… My children.”

Li’Kalla raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, ”Children, huh? I thought you were- Nevermind,” The Goddess sighed again, ”One would expect a Goddess of Families to try to keep families together. And to think I invited her to a sleepover... Oh well, would you like for us to go pick up your children?”

”You… You would do that?” she said, her eyes misty again.

”Of course, offspring are the most important thing in our lives. It is what gives us strength to move on. A mother should never have to unwillingly leave her children behind.”

”Where would you take them?” she asked.

”Them? I will be taking you and your children to the settlement my Faithful have been developing for the past ten years. You will find sanctuary there from the conceited, inefficient Gods of this world, and enjoy the chance to truly find who you are without a Divine telling you what to do at every turn.” Li’Kalla puffed out her chest a little in pure pride for her own words.

”But my curse… I have to keep running. That’s what Arae demanded. I can never stay in one place for too long, else tragedy will strike. It’s why I left them behind…” she said sadly.

At this, Li’Kalla cracked a smirk. ”If the Goddess of Families is as efficient at placing curses as she is at protecting families, then finding a workaround should be no problem.”

Relief washed over Laurien’s face as she began to cry again. ”Thank you Li’Kalla… Thank you.”

Li’Kalla looked at Laurien for a while, then nodded and stood up, offering the woman a hand.

She took it graciously, dusting herself off after standing. She then stood a little straighter and composed herself before saying, ”I know the way.” she said, beginning to float up.

And soon they were soaring through the skies. The trip was mostly silent, so determined Laurien was to get to her children before some other Nebulite did. She hated herself for leaving them, when a solution had appeared so readily. She put them through so much in a span of weeks, how would they ever forgive her?

The flight to the city was shorter, with how fast she flew. There was no stopping and in a matter of a half a day, they reached the outskirts. It was much the same as she had left it, but rather empty. There was barely anyone outside, and she soon realized why. Motes of white hovered over the city. She flew closer to one and inspected it, and instantly knew just how dangerous the thing was.

She panicked and at once shouted. ”No no no!” before flying towards the upper city. Li’Kalla followed in silence, deftly avoiding any mote.

Laurien arrived at her home, just to see looters leaving through her doors. At the sight of her, they ran off into an alleyway, but Laurien did not care. She ran through the doors and screamed, ”ANDROMEDA! PHOSET!” only to be met with silence. She ran up the stairs, yelling for them as she went, but was met with only quiet. She arrived on her balcony to see the guards bodies gone… and it was there she broke down again.

”Arae must have taken them. Come on,” Li’Kalla said, ”We will draw up a plan to get them back, but first we have to go to your new home.”

As if in a daze, Laurien stood up and made her way to the door, following behind Li. Her heart was a mess… But if Arae had taken them… Then they would at least be safe, she hoped. ”Where will we go…?” she said dejectedly.

”As I said,” Li’Kalla cleared her throat and grabbed Laurien’s wrist, pulling her away from the empty building and taking flight. ”Your new home. Though, there are some conditions and rules you must follow to stay there for a prolonged time.”

She let herself be pulled. Eventually, as the city became small Laurien asked, "What are those?"

”There is no need to discuss them now. We will do so when you’re settled and recovered.”

And just like that, the city disappeared beyond the horizon and before they knew it, they found themselves over the vast oceans. Laurien said nothing during this time, far too lost in thought as she was and the newest loss hitting her hard. She had been so close, but it wasn't good enough. She looked at Li'Kalla from time to time, wondering what the Goddess was thinking, wondering why she was helping her. It didn't make sense… Or perhaps it did in a way. Perhaps...

Eventually the pair saw land on the horizon, and in that land over a large plume of steam they circled, then swooped down and landed gracefully on a balcony on a large Manor on top of a hill. There was a lot of fog that day, and it was only thanks to Li’Kalla’s godly senses that they found their way so precisely.

It wasn’t raining.

Li’Kalla shook her wings and furled them against her back, then walked inside, followed by Laurien. As they walked through dimly lit hallways, the Goddess spoke for the first time in hours.

”This is my home. You will choose a room to stay in. All the doors are locked, so the first door you try to open will unlock and become your room. Beware, this applies to recreation rooms so unless you enjoy sleeping on a billiard table you’d better stick to opening a door on the second floor, which is where we are right now.”

After the long flight, Laurien's mood had barely improved and she had no idea what a recreation room or a billiards table was, but nodded and said, "Second floor, got it."

”This Manor is like my own body, in a way, and I consider any and all uninvited entrances a violation of my trust. Therefore, do try to keep guests to a minimum, and give me notice when you intend to bring someone here. Otherwise, make yourself at home as my first true guest since I’ve recovered my body. You can find sustenance in the kitchen, as I’ve recently seen to it that the chiller be stocked with local flavours and ingredients. If you require complex meals, report to me and I shall get our best cook here. Do try to be self-sufficient, however...” Li’Kalla kept talking and laying down rules and guidance about her home as she led Laurien down a set of ornate stairs and into the main hall. A modest door to the side had light spilling out from underneath it. ”That’s the kitchen. Are you feeling hunger right now, Laurien?”

Though she barely had an appetite, her stomach grumbled slightly. "I could eat." she put simply.

Li’Kalla nodded and the door opened of its own accord, revealing a kitchen filled with strange, sleek appliances. The Goddess led Laurien to a stool on a counter and then moved over to the kitchen. She opened the fridge and pulled out two eggs and washed them in her sink before setting them to the side. She then went to the hob, pulled a pan and salt and pepper from a cabinet next to it and placed the pan on the hob. With a turn of one of the four knobs on the hob, fire was created under the pan. Li’Kalla couldn’t hide her smile and the little bouncing of her heels, and then when the pan had heated enough, she cracked the eggs and poured them into the pan.

They sizzled immediately, and she quickly added salt and pepper, then covered the pan with a lid.

A minute or two later, she opened the lid and the scent of fresh fried egg flooded the room. Satisfied with her handiwork, she turned off the flame and moved the eggs from the pan to a plate she’d prepared for Laurien, grimacing a little as a small piece of the eggs stuck to the pan.

She then took the plate, along with a fork, to Laurien and set it down in front of her, then sat down herself opposite to Laurien on the counter, glaring at her intently.

Laurien looked down at the food before and began to eat peckishly. After she chewed and swallowed she gave Li a small smile and said, "This is very good. Um… What is… All of this?" she asked looking around at all the oddities before taking another bite of the eggs.

”My home. Bits and pieces I remember that I’ve chosen to recreate here. I remember watching a maid cook two fried eggs for me as breakfast one day. I took the eggs out of the chiller, washed them in the sink, and cooked them on a pan on the hob. I added salt and pepper and then moved them to a plate. I am quite proud of my culinary achievement. I’m glad you find the eggs satisfactory. Do not burn your tongue, Laurien.”

She nodded with a mouthful, blinking at Li. Did the Goddess… Did she only know how to cook eggs? She mulled it over before swallowing. ”You should be very proud, they are very good and hit the spot.” she said again with a smile, which after having raised her eyebrows, Li’Kalla returned as she leaned forward over the counter, resting her arms on the surface.

”Thank you, Laurien. I also know how to cook some vegetables, like boiled carrots. What about you?”

She twirled her fork on the now empty plate and said, ”I learned some things, here and there when I stayed with the Dreamers. But nothing like what you have here.”

”I suppose these are all leftover pieces of technology from where I come from. I cannot remember the name anymore, but there were knights, I was royalty, and I wanted to be married to a strong, beautiful person. Well, since I’m here now I suppose that never happened.”

”Silver spoke of knights once…” Laurien said quietly, before looking at Li. ”I… I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’d do without you, and your hospitality, but I have to ask… Is she really gone?”

Li’Kalla furrowed her brow and sighed, ”Who knows? I don’t think so, at least. It depends on your definition of ‘gone’, I imagine.”

Laurien sat up straighter, her gaze more intent upon the Goddess. There was desperation in her voice now, ”Could you… Could you bring her back? She’s a part of you, isn’t she?”

”I’m afraid I haven’t-” Li’Kalla pursed her lips, then continued, ”I suppose she is.”

”Please.” Laurien said, getting up from her seat and going over to Li, she got on her knees. ”Please. I d-don’t have my kids… I-I don’t have a home… Silver could… I just wanted to say goodbye. Just… Just let me say goodbye. Please.” she said her voice breaking as she began to cry again.

Li’Kalla’s face twisted and she teared up. Turning away, she said, ”I-I thought we could...” She fell silent for a moment, and then turned to glare at Laurien with icy eyes, ”... Have it your way.” Li’Kalla’s skin seemed to crumble away and the cracks in her skin widened. From those cracks a bright light suddenly started seeping out, and Li’Kalla’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and the ends of her hair turned a reddish hue. Li’Kalla’s body shivered as it changed form, turning from the beautiful, refined, delicate Li’Kalla to the somewhat athletic body of Silver along with her rough hands and scarred arms.

It was then that the bright white gaze settled on Laurien, and tears began to well up in her eyes.

”S-Silver…?” Laurien cried, planting her head in the woman’s stomach as she wrapped her arms around her. ”I’m s-sorry. I’m so sorry. I should n-never have l-left.” she mumbled into her dress.

“Laurien…? What happened? Where am I? It’s been so long, I’ve missed you so much...” Silver asked, tears falling freely from her eyes as she gently and slowly caressed her fingers through Laurien’s hair.

She looked up at Silver. ”I’ve missed you too. So, so much.” she cried softly. ”I never got to say goodbye, chickadee. You… You died, remember? But now, now you live on again, in Li’Kalla! You got put back together… but…” her voice broke.

“Oh, right, I died, huh? I guess I hurt you by hitching a ride with the grim reaper’s carriage. It all seems so far away and still… I guess we made it? We took back the body and drove out the beast? Laurie…” Silver gasped, the white pupil-less eyes widening as she looked down and saw Laurien’s face nuzzle up against her stomach, “Laurie…! Laurie! You’re back! You’re back!” Silver repeated breathily, “I did it, you know! I stayed up late every night waiting for you to come home, no matter how hard the day was. Sometimes I thought you’d abandoned me, you know, maybe I wasn’t a good enough lover or you’d just forgotten about the lonely girl you met at your father’s farm, but here you are! You came back!”

Her face was a wash of emotion, a deep hurt broke across her face as she realized the sheer amount of sadness she cause Silver. ”N-No… I’d never abandon you. I was… I was just kept away and then Orvus told me… He killed you and I… I never forgot about you. I even… I even tried to avenge you. But you’re here now… And I can finally see you again.”

Silver’s tears dripped off her chin and nose onto Laurien. The red-haired girl sniffled and shook her head, “You make me feel so loved, Laurie… Reacting like this to not having seen me for just around one year. I-I thought for sure I was going to be the one bawling all over you.” She said with a shaky chuckle as she hugged Laurien’s head close.

”S-Silver… I-It’s been decades.” Laurien said. There was a stunned note in her voice, as she was surprised that Silver had no idea. To her… It probably felt like waking up for the first time, in a long time. She squeezed her a bit harder.

“Has it? Huh... “ Silver fell silent, absent-mindedly holding Laurien tighter.

Laurien pulled her head away to look up at her again. ”So many things have happened… I-I don’t even know where to begin…”

Silver’s skin took on a grey hue, and after Laurien pulled away, she wrapped her arms around herself, shivering as the cracks in her skin widened and at point, made it seem like her limbs would fall off. She doubled over, gagging and coughing, the white eyes growing dim and brightening randomly. Her form twisted and tried to change, and the veins beneath her crumbling skin seemed ready to burst with god blood.

“Uuggh…” She grunted lowly. In a split moment, she shifted on her seat and the stool tumbled and she fell to the ground where she began convulsing.

Laurien stumbled to her, placing her hands on her back in comfort. ”Silver! Silver! Listen to me.” she said quickly. ”I love you, so so much. Okay? I want you to know that. I-I…” her voice broke.

And just like that, Silver was still. She exhaled, and closed her eyes.

A blinding, suffocating light flashed in the room, and when the pure white light subsided, the body in front of Laurien was returning to its original form, that of the pure Goddess Li’Kalla.

”Li’Kalla! A-Are you alright?” Laurien asked.

Li’Kalla’s eyes shot open and she immediately took in a large breath and started gasping for air, her nails digging into the wooden floor and her wings spazzing out. That is, until she saw Laurien. At that point, she froze and composed herself. The cracks in her skin went back to normal, and she relaxed and stood up.

”Huh, did you manage to say goodbye?” Li’kalla said, picking up the stool and sitting on it again as if nothing had happened. But the almost imperceivable twitching of her right leg was hard to miss.

Laurien bowed her head before the Goddess. ”I… Did. At least… I tried too. T-Thank you for doing that your grace. It meant a lot to me.”

Li’Kalla shook her head, ”I will not do this again, it takes a great mental toll to awaken slumbering shards like Silver. I only did this because...” Li’Kalla’s eyes glazed over for a moment, before she perked up and raised an eyebrow, ”Yes, I only did this because you appreciated my cooking. It is natural that I would return the compliment with a selfless action, isn’t it?”

”Yes, it was very kind.” Laurien said, looking up at her. ”I-I think I’ll go pick out a room, with your permission of course.”

”Yes, go ahead. Remember the rules, Laurie...n.”

The girl blinked and a small smile fell on her lips, before she nodded and said, ”Thank you, Li’Kalla.” before taking her leave from the Goddess, who remained sitting alone in the kitchen. After a few minutes of lonely reflection, Li’Kalla walked to the window and looked at the bright falling star trailing across the sky. It was too close and luminous to be a part of Veradax, and the Goddess watched it closely. Eventually, she huffed and walked away deeper into her Manor.





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Hidden 16 days ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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Five days had passed, and with each day Song found herself closer and closer to Urangtai. Each visit found him more comfortable with her, and her finding a groove in talking with him. Meiyun hadn’t come by since Song had told her off, but had supposedly tried to talk to Urangtai one final time just yesterday, to which Urangtai simply shrugged her off -- finding her unpleasant. Sometimes Song’s beloved would sit in silence, as if remorseful over something or another, but whenever Song talked, he seemed attentive.

It was a beautiful evening over the jungle, the heliopolis colouring the sky a gentle shade of purple. In the palace gardens sat Song with a flower in her hand, awaiting her beloved. Absent-mindedly, she stripped the flower of its petals, whispering, “he loves me,” for every one she plucked. Occasionally, she would add a “very much” at the end. The last five days had been magnificent, and it was all thanks to that fantastic person - no, her master! She would be faithful for something like this! A favour? Pfft! Urangtai was hers now - what could measure up to that?

Scraping footsteps pulled her from her reverie, and as she looked up she noticed a rather dirty looking Urangtai walking across the garden path -- and leaving a dusting of gravel as he walked. In his hands he held a small sack the size of a fist, a proud smile on his face.

“Song,” He called out, almost coughing from the dust that shook from his hair.

“Urang!” Song sang happily and spun to face him. “You came!”

“Yes!” Urangtai nodded, quickly tossing the sack to next to the sitting woman, “But look what me and Yesugei found on the exploratory mission.”

Song eyed the sack. “What’d you find?”

“Open and see,” Urangtai sat next to her, an eager look on his face -- one Song hadn’t seen in quite a many days.

Song gave him a playful smile and peeked inside the bag. Inside was reddish soil that gently sparkled when moved around, with some green and orangish clumps filtering through the soil coagulates.

“Copper,” Urangtai explained, “We dug up barrels full, just like the images our God showed us. We can finally start smelting.”

Song’s facial expression faltered a little, but she cocked her head to the side and smiled supportively at Urangtai. “That’s great, love!”

“Uh-huh!” Urangtai’s eyes glistened over the metal, a hand shaking off the dirt in his hair, “I can’t wait to work the smithies.”

“What will you make?” Song asked politely.

“Better shovels for one,” Urangtai folded the sack back closed, “But, uh, I actually have to go.” He cocked a thumb behind him, “I need to wash up and get this metal back to Yesugei, but can I see you for dinner?”

Song deflated a little and sighed. “Always work with you. Alright, but be home on time today, alright?”

Urangtai gave her a quick smile and nod before dashing off. The dirty man turned the corner and out of sight. A second thumped by and suddenly he was running back, the sack suddenly gone. He smiled through a running pant and came to a halt, slapping his hands to his knees, “On second thought.” He plopped next to Song, “I guess I could stay a while longer.”

Song blinked, but didn’t let her surprise drown out the beam of joy exploding from her smile. “Oh, Urang! You’re so caring for little me! Would you sing for me?”

“I only know the little ditty called ‘glory be to Yullian,’” Urangtai winked, his eyes suddenly sparkling with tiny specks of blue.

Song clapped her hands twice before the words clicked and she gave Urangtai a slack-jawed look. “What did you just say?”

Urangtai’s face suddenly shifted to that of Huang and a wide laughing smile broke over Yullian’s face, “I said, glory be to Yullian, no?”

Song’s face lost what little colour it had and she packed it between her knees where she sat. “Whyyyyyyyyy?!”

“Oh come now,” Yullian leaned back on two hands and admired the azure sky, “You know what today is, don’t you?”

Song droned a groan. “Whaaat?”

“It is the seventh day since our pact was made,” Yullian grinned, completely ignoring Song’s displeasure, “As I said, in seven days Urangtai would be all yours and now he is, pretty fantastic, isn’t it?”

Song looked up, a half-smile on her face. “Yeah… Yeah, he is! He really is!” Completely forgetting how upset she was at their prank, she turned to face Yullian with an inclined head. “I am forever in your debt, Your Holiness!”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Yullian smiled wide. “Oh, did you notice those flowers he found you yesterday? I’d say that was awfully sweet of him...”

“Yeah, I did. They were so beautiful. I wanted to give him something back for those, but then he went back to work, and then it was dinner time, and…” She sighed. “Oh well, having a busy man is a good sign, they say.”

“They do say that,” Yullian nodded idly, “Well, this is it, then. The end of our agreement -- I do hope you enjoy your forty children and life of love and splendor. It was a pleasure.” The demigod slowly rose to his knees and shook off some dirt from his palms.

“Forty children… With him,” Song mumbled dreamily before looking back at Yullian. “Wait, you’re leaving?”

“Oh, I’ll be around, don’t you worry about that,” Yullian stretched to his feet. “Just don’t forget that favor we discussed, I expect results, okay?” He winked.

Song blinked. “Certainly, but… I don’t think you ever mentioned what I was supposed to do.”

“I didn’t?” Yullian stretched an arm over their head quizzically, “Oh, well it’s really simple: every last one of your descendents, including yourself must be completely devoted to my worship.” He straightened out, “Wouldn’t hurt to snag some outsiders into the little cult, let’s call it, but just ensure all your kids and their kids and so one do the deed and we are square.” Yullian cleared his throat, “I’ll know if anyone stops, but if you really want to ensure I don’t overlook a more subtle faithful, always toss the last of any baked good out the window for myself and I’ll get the hint. All good?”

Song gasped. “E-everyone? But, uh…” She scratched her temple uncertainly. “A-are we just going to pretend whenever we pray to Shengshi and K’nell--”

“Hup!” Yullian held up a hand, “I don’t care if you want to pray to anyone else, I really don’t, so long as you and your descendents don’t forget to worship the god who made this pact with you.”

“Oh, so… ‘Completely’ devoted,” she said and gave a wink. “Well, I don’t see any issues with that, then!”

“Great!” Yullian clapped his hands together, “If anyone ever falters, I’ll bleed my wrath upon them and all that. Now! You have one last little blessing, free of charge.” He suddenly poked Song on the tip of her nose, inciting a loud sneeze.

Song rubbed her nose. “Wuh-what did you, uh-ugh--... Ugh, I hate it when I-- never mind, what did you --ACHOO!-- there is came, what did you do?”

“I just gave you your first task as a completely devoted Yullian worshipper, isn’t that fun?” Yullian giddily announced, “Go sneeze on every last one of the denizens of this city, no questions asked.” Yullian winked.

“Wuh-... But won’t that--ugh… ACHOO!” She sniffed and rubbed her nose again. “Won’t that make them sick?”

“I really don’t have time to get into how infections work, but don’t worry -- nothing like tha- hey wait a second, I said no questions. Oh ho! You got me there,” Yullian wagged a finger, “But really, you don’t even have to finish it today (but the sneezes won’t stop until you do). Oo!” Yullian playfully punched the air, “I’m so excited for this new chapter, aren’t you?”

A triplet sneeze came out and Song began to sob.

“Tears of joy,” Yullian sang.




The years began to drift by after that, with Song seeing herself to quadruplets next spring. Oddly enough, she wasn’t the only one -- with those who had caught her sneeze finding themselves with twins and triplets. Life went on in the traveling city, with new families emerging like a rash over the turtle’s back. Song herself found her life exactly as she wanted and in her thanks decided to quickly tutor her children in the ways of Yullian and how to show their worship of the god.

Upon the eighth year, Song found herself with ten sets of quadruplets -- just as she wanted. For four happy months after the birth of her final four, she lived in extreme happiness, having the perfect life she had once prayed for, but when it seemed as if her own personal paradise was perfect, disaster struck.

She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but her husband slowly became more and more distant until one day as if he had suddenly discovered the eight long years of trickery and deceit, he had disappeared altogether. Her worry was turned to ripping grief when a month later Yesugei had reported to General Ming that he had found Urangtai’s body on the grounds below the turtle. He was mangled and not much more than a splatter, having leapt from the turtle in despair -- Yesugei guessed.

Being the only friend Urangtai had left at the time of his death, Yesugei was questioned endlessly upon the matter and suspicion was eventually shifted from him and his tight lipped ways to Song herself -- but her extreme grief and sadness was enough to persuade Ming of her innocence. In the end it was confirmed by lack of evidence otherwise that Urangtai had ended his own life in a moment of sudden insanity.

Unbeknownst to the other Dreamers, after that day Song had attempted to kill herself on multiple occasions, but was stopped each time by Yullian -- eager to see his investment pan out. Song was completely broken, but her teachings of Yullian to her children and to some wayward housewives and husbands didn’t stop after the death of Urangtai -- be it out of blind faith for a better life, or uncomfortable fear. In the end, by ten years the secret cult of Yullian was thriving among the youth, just as copper and metals was thriving among the busy.

The god himself often found himself thinking by the city square that sat flat before the palace gates. It wasn’t so much a spot for the view, as much as a spot to pick out new faces and old from the ever bustling crowd of the growing city. On one particular K’nell’sday, as he sat (as Huang) on a stone platform ringed with copper benches, he found himself staring at the sky above.

When bored with the timid and frail lives of mortality, Yullian often found himself watching the silly little cloudlings bumble about the sky. In truth he didn’t see much difference between them and the other living creatures of Galbar, dreamers included, but what difference there was (namely the ability to worship) was a wide enough gap to keep his more mischievous interests from the small popping creatures.

Also in truth, Yullian was not simply bored, he was finished. Rotating in his mind was a long list of things he had done over the ten years, namely securing a base of worship -- but not much else. Ten years was a short time to a god, but still a long enough time to have gotten more done. Yullian found themselves only a single step closer to becoming the full fledged deity he wanted to be, now having worshippers, but that was a single step on a grand staircase. Never again, Yullian would think to himself (rather frivolously) would he choose to waste ten years on such a simple task.

There was a sudden pop unlike one Yullian had heard before and right before his eyes, a once dazzling cloudling turned dark and fizzled out of the sky. The god squinted, and a few more cloudlings suddenly fizzled out as well, turning into nothing but a burst of dew. It took one more burst before Yullian had devoted enough attention to the popping massacre to notice the culprit -- tiny motes.

The cloudlings were eagerly eating the small motes, and then dying as a result. Yullian frowned and upon noticing that their soul seemed to perish with the motes, he realized this was the last thing he needed. Should his ten year long plan be undone by deadly flying dust, he should paint himself a fool. No, this wouldn’t do, the godling figured -- especially should it disrupt his worship.

Standing up, the god hopped off the platform. He wagged a finger at the stone and it started to sculpt itself. Passing by dreamers froze in their steps, staring with wild eyes at the yawning Yullian, a sparkle of power twisting from his finger and into the molding stone. As the stone began to rise and rise, finally some brave dreamer managed to bark out.

“What are you doing!?” followed by a: “Stop it!”

Yullian gave the man a cursory glance before going back to sculpting. With one final pang a large statue of Huang rose from the platform, one foot planted on the chest of a fallen figure uncannily similar to the dreamer who called out. The statue had their hands on their hips and a jovial laugh frozen in stone. Yullian dusted his hands and mimicked the stance before turning on a heel.

“Go on,” he ushered a hand at the dreamers, “Go get someone important. Hut hut!”

It took a moment or so before the royal court came out of the palace, spear-headed by the ageing, greying Wenbo and the wrinkled Ai. The lord and lady gasped at the statue and waved their hands around.

"What is the meaning of this?!" Wenbo shouted as strongly as he could. Ming and her troops were not far behind.

“I just thought it would be privy for you to know who just saved your unaware little lives,” Yullian put a hand over their heart, “Tis I, Yullian -- A god.” The smug smile on Yullian’s face grew as he seemed to pause in expectation.

The surrounding Dreamers exchanged looks. "Why I--" Wenbo tried his best to solve the conflict between respect and outrage flaring up in his head. "Yullian. So… Then my granddaughter's 'imaginary friend' was no such thing after all. What have you done for us?" Approaching them was the very broken Song escorted by her uncles Tian and De.

“I have given you quite the chance to notice how great I truly am,” Yullian boasted, “By erecting this statue,” He gave his image a firm slap, “I have put your precious city in an aura of protection, if you will. Your mortal eyes may have not seen it, but my divine wisdom foresaw a great and terrible danger.” Yullian mulled around dramatically, “Little specks of dust withering souls themselves threatened to descend upon your people. But as long as my statue stands, I don’t think any such negative attributes shall be added to any souls in this city.” The Godling seemed amused for a moment, “On top of that, this aura will also let you dive under the waves without worrying about drowning on your turtle friend.”

Wenbo and Ai blinked. "That's… That's most generous of Your Holiness," Ai started, "but is this out of goodwill? Our people have had dealings with those who want something in return. Does that category also include You?"

“Nope,” Yullian put his hands on his hips, and grinned, “Pretty great, huh?”

Song had been brought to the front, where she knelt soberly next to her grandparents. Wenbo's eyes shifted between her and the demigod. Eventually, he said, "So, granddaughter of mine, it would seem that this mysterious spirit you and your children have talked so much about exists after all." On the old man's head, Bean Bun stared judgmental daggers down at the young lady, popping suspiciously. Song looked away wordlessly and Wenbo pleadingly turned to Ai. His wife sighed and knelt down next to Song to embrace her.

"Song, our dear Song… We are all in deep sorrow over the loss of our beloved Urangtai, but… Please, we need you to confirm whether or not you know this god. We…" Her voice became a whisper. "... It may be naive to trust them…"

Song looked up at her grandmother's sympathetic smile, then around at the ground, at the children her depression had caused her to neglect, and finally at Yullian. She nodded weakly and mumbled, "They speak the truth… They are Yullian, and they keep their word."

Wenbo hummed. "How long have you been walking among us, Your Holiness? And… And how long have you known my granddaughter?"

“Long enough,” Yullian nodded and folded his arms, “And I must say I really enjoyed what you all did with the place -- really.”

Wenbo looked around. “It’s only a natural result of the countless joys and honours bestowed upon us by God and the Lord.” He eyed the statue with a partial frown. “... We are honoured to count Your work among those additions.”

“As you should be!” Yullian grinned, “It should also be known that prayers to myself by yon faithful and those who recognized my greatness has a direct connection to you populations recent expansion. So you see? My name is a name of help.” The godling clasped Wenbo’s hands between his own and gave a curly smile, “One not easily forgotten, too!”

Wenbo awkwardly shook the hand and forced a smile. “W-we are most honoured, certainly!” The smile became more and more genuine. “To think that we were so fortunate as to have a guardian such as Your Holiness - our people have never been more numerous! Our farmers have certainly worked their share to feed the younglings.” A small girl came over and tugged at the hem of the elder’s robe. Wenbo chuckled and hoisted her into his arms. “A blessing without compare, is to see one’s great grandchildren while still alive.”

Yullian seemed to bask in the compliment for a moment before nodded eagerly, “I’m so glad that you enjoy my gifts as much as I enjoyed granting them.” He turned on his heel, “But for now, I have quite the agenda to fill.”

“O-oh?”

“I’m a-” Yullian turned back slightly, “I’m a god, yeah? Gods have a lot they have to do, no?”

Nods spread out through the crowd. “Yes, I suppose,” Wenbo said. Yullian smiled playfully and as fast as they had appeared, they were gone. The Dreamers did not look too carefully for them - a god could disappear like smoke on the wind if they so desired, without giving mortals any hope of finding them.

It was then, a few hours later, that the sky rained fire. Pyres the size of Chuanwang’s head flared up in the heavens and began to approach, and the Dreamers stormed into their houses in vain hopes that they would protect them. It was then that Wenbo, the gift of fluency in any animal tongue still ripe in his mind in spite of age, hobbled his way over to Chuanwang’s head with the aid of his wife and children. With a frail, exhausted voice he called, “CHUANWANG! DIVE!”
The monstrous turtle was reluctant, knowing full well the consequences of such an action. However, as more and more voices chimed in and made themselves understood with the help of the Babble Fish, the beast understood the situation. It filled its colossal lungs with air and dipped its head under the surface, the rest of its body following slowly.

It was just as Yullian had said. Around the city walls, a glass-like bubble extended far above them, protecting them from the crushing depths. The turtle dove deeper and deeper, schools of very confused fish parting before it. A whale passed over them and whistled a curious tune. The Dreamers who had huddled away in their homes came out to witness the sight. Everywhere was dim and dimming, but above the shine of day still twinkled through the waves. Great echoes through the bubble hinted that some of the flames had stuck the surface, and even the mighty Chuanwang was shaken by the shockwaves quivering through the sea. This continued for hours, and pained rumblings from their turtle mount made the Dreamers weep. Wenbo, exhausted from his run, was brought to his chambers by his children. Ai remained to keep morale high and gathered all the children and their parents in front of the palace to sing hymns to their God and Lord. Morin khuurs sang their songs of string to drown out the booms above, and eventually, the music deafened the chaos shaking the oceans. Chuanwang’s cries quieted down, but the Dreamers’ song continued, its spirit filling them with peace and tranquility even as the vile dangers around them faded away.



“Within in the dreams lies a great palace;
The name of this palace is that of the Dreams;
Far to the east runs the great rivers;
The might of the rivers does sail those streams.

Much do I miss endless lands of green;
Tree-eaters chasing the saplings far;
Life with You, God, how would it have been?
In time, we’ll know in Your great Moksha.

Great beast of Shengshi, o bear us far;
Carry us into the distant dawn;
Grant us a journey akin to what our
Siblings are living out there beyond.

Great God, great Lord, we all pray to you -
Safeguard us in this time of fright;
Help us defend our children true;
Please do not let us leave Your sights.

Thousand year turtle, we’re safe on you;
We will here rest without fear of death;
Lord and God, our faith renews;
We sing your praises with every breath.

How we wish to be with our kin -
Thousands of siblings of ages past;
Great God, great Lord, help us go in
Into great Moksha when we have passed.

Great God, great Lord, help us go in
Into great Moksha when we have passed.

Great God, great Lord, help us go in
Into great Moksha when we have passed...”

The hymn continued into the night, echoing into the surrounding sea. As fire boiled the water around them, however, the Dreamers were safe.




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