Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Mekellos




Konrad was the finest coppersmith in his village. Everything he made, he poured his heart and soul into.

He had just finished producing his latest work - a sword for his chieftain - when an unusual purple light filled his smithy, blinding him. A strange presence passed over him, invading his mind, and then his soul. It was not painful, but it was a jarring experience nonetheless. He dropped his hammer, slumped to his knees, and clutched his head, hoping it would end.

End it did, only a mere minute later. The blacksmith opened his eyes to see that his smithy had returned to normal. Confused at what just happened, he picked up his hammer, and slowly returned to his feet.

Hello! two chipper voices, one male and the other female, suddenly spoke in his head.

The shocked blacksmith jumped in his skin, and brandished the hammer as if it were a weapon. His eyes swept around the smithy, glancing for the intruder, but he was alone.

"Who is there?" he demanded.

I am Mekellos. Avatar of Cadien. I have chosen you to be my host. the voices said, no less enthusiastic.

"Cadien?" His eyes widened. "That... that's... I never thought... wait, host?"

Yep! Here goes!

The surging feeling returned, and he felt as if something was burrowing deep into his chest. Once more he fell to his needs. "What..." he gasped. "What is happenning!?" His life flashed before his eyes; his past, his achievements, his skills, his desires. Was he dying?

Then the sensation ended, and he felt raw power burning through his veins. A sense of confidence filled him. It was as if he could take on the world!

Then, new images flashed before his eyes. Images that were not his own. From a time long ago, in Galbar's early years, in the eyes of one of its oldest entities. Cadien.

His god.

And with those images, the God's wisdom was imparted on to him as well. He could take on the world. He could do just about anything he set out to achieve. But that didn't mean he should. Restraint was important. He had to use this power wisely and responsibly, and most importantly, he could never forget who had given him this power in the first place.

He opened his eyes, which turned purple. "I... I accept."



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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Zurajai
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Zurajai Unintentional Never-Poster

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The Wrath of K̸͔̃a̶̛̪a̵̻͌ŗ̶̈n̸̶̛̲͖̊


High atop his pyramidal ziggurat, the All-Tyrant brooded.

In the hidden paths of his deepest, darkest memories to that primordial era when gods swam the seas, Kaarnexaturl dwelt in benthic dreams. The watery realm of his thoughts parted and let the many-minds of Kaarn peer into the past, thinking back to that distant age. In many ways, the All-Tyrant missed those times; he had seen Klaarungraxus himself, with his very own eyes, and had spoken with the Empowerer-of-Tyrants unbowed. A different age and a lost one, likely never to return despite what his Warlocks promised and swore. Nevertheless, the past was the past and the now was all that matter. His eyes pushed from their sockets, the fleshy folds pulling back with that added pressure to act as eyelids, revealing his glowing gaze to the world.

But of those memories passed, forged during the time of the gods’ parting? Two thousand years of time to remember…


“All-Tyrant, may the honor be all yours.”

Kaarnesxaturl stared up at the surface of waves, all six eyes glaring at the world above his watery realm. The gentle splashing of the waves against the shoreline spoke to the Tyrant of good things, of kindness, and of softness, but all he could see is the dreadful world Klaarungraxus sought to drown. For nearly five decades Kaarnesxaturl had watched as his realm was left without their deity, a dread omen and a doom prophesied by the God of Oceans himself. For five decades the Warlocks had served as his advisors, telling him that the great God could be returned, and that the gods above had been thrust from the world in equal measure. For five decades Kaarnesxaturl had waited patiently, testing the Warlocks’ theories, allowing him to conquer more reefs in that time.

Now he was faced with a choice.

His warlock coven, led by the venerable Xes, had been locked in their caverns plotting. Time and time again he had seen their lackeys and minions carrying out experiments, returning with withered corpses of Vrool or dragging Akua slaves to their grottos. What, exactly, the had been up to was of little consequence; Kaarn frankly had no interest in their witchery. But, when Xes had come to Kaarn’s lair with promises of further conquests beyond even those limits made for them by Klaarungraxus, his interest had been piqued. For nearly a month he had been tutored in this new technique, training himself and his most vaunted retainers in this same act. Now it was time to put it to the test.

Kaarn continued to glare onwards at the crashing white-water from below, rumbling. Those boiled and dried up Vrool hung in his mind yet he knew he could not falter here; he was the All-Tyrant, rightful spawn of Klaarungraxus, crowned by the pale-fish Tekretsesxerest to rule all below. And now, all above as well. Floating forward like the demi-god he truly thought himself to be, Kaarnesxaturl rose from the waves in all his dread power. A constant hum rolled from his bell, vibrating his body ever so slightly while the ends of his tentacles played a somatic dance. Maintaining his regal composure even as the moonlight hit him unblocked by water and the loss of that watery embrace, Kaarnesxaturl became the first Vrool to march onto the soil of Galbar.

Behind him followed his warlocks and then, one by one, his several dozen retainers trusted with the knowledge of this act. On that distant northern shore of Pakohu, the island so named by the Akua who lived on or near its shores, the first Vrool set tentacle onto the unhallowed ground stolen from Klaarungraxus’ realm.

The trick had been a fairly simple one, all things considered, and one that the Warlocks had gleefully tested the full extents of with not particularly willing test subjects. A Vrool could pull water into its bell, held within a number of bladders used for structure in their boneless bodies. By calmly controlling the flow of those waters, a Vrool could continuously keep themselves wet and breathing for a prolonged period of time on the surface. As well as simply allowing them to survive above, the water kept in their system allowed them to maintain full structure of their bodies rather than collapsing under their weight. With the Holy Vonu, known to all Vrool from birth as a gift from their God, Vrool could remain strong and powerful even here, on the surface. The water, of course, would need to be flushed from the system and fresh water brought in to continue breathing after a period, but this was a simple solution.

Yet unknown to anyone but the Warlocks and Kaarn himself, however, was an extra portion of that particular skill. With the proper tonal shifts and the right words, that water could be heated like the vents deep in the grottos of Vo. Kept just beneath the point of injuring the Vrool, this heated water could be used to heat the Vrool cardiovascular system and subsequently suppress the flaw of their cold-blooded nature. Whispered and kept hushed by the Warlocks and their master, Kaarn, it was realized that this skill would need to be restricted until such a time that Kaarn’s rule was completely entrenched. Then, as a gift from the Vroolish All-Tyrant, all Vrool could quicken their minds as the Warlocks had.

In the distant, flickering lights could be seen and the smell of something no Vrool had ever sensed wafted across their limbs. Tentacles flickered and shook with excitement at this new awareness, entirely curious to explore an entirely fresh cacophony of the senses. Voices, though primitive and guttural, could be heard over the winds. There was an electric sensation that ran through the collected warrior-vrool, with the gaggle of Warlocks excitedly chattering about the results of their work.

With a flick of his tentacle, Kaarn set loose his warriors on the primitives of the nearby village; it was rightly time to test the mettle of these surface dwellers proper and rightly.


Ah, memories.

Kaarn felt his eyes return to awareness as he allowed the flickering sensations of his memories leave him. He was gone from that ancient place and long forgotten time, from the first Vrool raid on the surface dwellers and back upon his ziggurat. It had taken nearly three hundred years of constant construction to complete, as he recalled, and had been built at the direction of his greatest minds. For the last five centuries he’d been able to enjoy this new perch, far superior to his cavernous lair of the past or even the simple palaces he had wrought for himself. There was plenty of space to observe his realm in all directions and numerous passageways and halls in which he could keep his numerous things. Even his harem of evidently beautiful Akua had room enough for themselves, even if Kaarn hardly doted on them; they were best for when Akuan chieftains needed assuaging, afterall.

In all directions the empire of Kaarn stretched; Aopoa, the greatest reef, and her conquered tributaries were numerous and all across the sea. Most tyrants in the last two thousand years had either been conquered or offered up their blood in payment, and those who hadn’t were allies who offered tribute to their All-Tyrant. Aopoa herself had benefited greatly, the sprawling urban realm expanding outwards from the Tyrant’s tower evidence of that. Aopoa, as the center of the Vroolish world, grew in strength, splendor, and influence. And so close to Ku the pull of that ancient icon could not be denied. Kaarn had even wisely accepted the council of his growing list of advisors, to allow Akua to freely visit that place and even take up residence as citizens of his growing empire. Though the slaves had not been freed, these freeborn Akua would be given at least some semblance of respect; after all, had they not been made by Klaarungraxus as well?

And further still had the Vrool interacted with the world above since those initial conquests. Slaves of surface races had been taken, brought to contained rooms of air so that they might continue to survive within Kaarn’s realm. The warping influence of Ku did its work marvelously, changing those slaves kept close to it to be more pliable to that pelagic realms’ needs. The capacity for lungs to breath water was most common, but gills and more extreme transformations were not unheard of. The city that popped up around Kaarn’s ziggurat, so called Kahu-ali’Haku in Ku’Ano Vonu, housed a diverse array of Vrool, Akua, and slaves of all races brought deep below.

Similar Vrool cities existed, particularly among those domains ruled by Tyrants closely allied to Kaarnesxaturl, and across this growing, decentralized empire there was the closest thing to peace Vrool could possibly stand. Conflict between Vrool was typically relegated to Tyrants killing Tyrants and lowborn killing lowborn, with most true conquests highly regulated by the All-Tyrant and his armies in Aopoa. Tyrants could still war on another, as always, but the risk of gaining too much and calling down the wrath of Kaarn as well as those rivals who could benefit from their reams collapse. It was far simpler and more profitable to simply raid the surface world, conquer or cajole Akuan chieftains into complacency, or make deals with those sea-faring peoples to throw tribute overboard when they travelled over the wrong reef.

That was not to say that the warm-bloods on the surface had not given the Vrool their fair share of trouble. Too many would-be tyrants, third-spawns of far greater vrool, would aimlessly wander with several companions up to the surface world and be slain. Though they certainly took many lives with them, it was clear that the surface was beginning to develop; although primitive, they were not without their dangers. The surface world races were numerous, reproducing faster than the vrool by many levels of magnitude, and they were often inclined towards grouping behaviors that made murdering them en masse considerably more difficult. Worst of all, they had begun to invent weapons using a material unknown to the Vrool and through a means vrool simply could not replicate.

Vrool, of course, had compensated. Being the smartest, most cunning, and most powerful people they had not been left wanting; warlocks produced all manner of interesting experiments that could be weaponized and even before the mortals clung to spears the vrool were armed with weapons of their own. Coral, in particular, could be spoken into growth to form blades, mauls, and stabbing implements while less wealthy vrool had access to bone, stones, and other weaponry. In some cases, bronze was acquired through trade and bent into shape or heated at undersea vents but beyond that it could not be gathered easily.

It was all exactly how Kaarnesxaturl had intended; the endless domain of Aopoa stretched all around the world. He had, as Tekretsesxerest had commanded, brought everything beneath the waves under his rule. Kaarn had become the uncontested Tyrant of all the oceans and he had done so by his own might and power, more than likely one of the largest and certainly oldest vrool in all the oceans. Indeed, even as his new spawnlings began to grow, one phrase had become unequaled to reference his greatness.

The Moon never sets on the Vrool Empire!


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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by dylonk
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Azaris


How had it found her?

Azaris paced through the void. Had she not hidden well enough? She had covered her tracks as well as always, the only exception being her beach home, which the lifeblood had never dared touch anyway. Or maybe it had eyes there too? The probable truth, as much as it pained her to admit, was that the lifeblood had always known where she was. It was omnipresent and omniscient, and that Azaris had hoped to avoid scrutiny with tricks like invisibility and silence made her feel idiotic in hindsight. But self pity never helped anybody. It was time to live in the here and now, if here and now turned out to be relevant concepts in this empty hellhole.

She took in her surroundings. There were none. A little unnerving, for sure, but nothing she couldn’t spruce up. Closing her eyes and waving her hand, she began to sculpt a crystalline purple tower. For a first try, it looked quite pretty, and it’s color scheme meshed quite aesthetically with the cold void it inhabited. A few more for good measure. It was like a city without the people, that is to say, a much more pleasant city. Taking a seat in her purple chair in her purple castle in her cozy infinite blackness, Azaris took some time to think, and it did not take much thinking at all for her to realize something.

This sucked.

Isolation was fine when self imposed, enjoyable actually. She had front row seats to all the interesting goings on of Galbar, she could retreat to her beach whenever she desired, and she was fully capable of rearranging people’s objects on a whim for shits and giggles. On Galbar she was unnoticed, and content. But here she was unconnected. Just because she didn’t want to reveal herself to those who could seek to hurt her didn’t mean that she didn’t care about them. Maybe it was a tad overzealous for her not to try to talk to any of those that she saw. Probably not Klaar, definitely not Yamat, but Gibbou or Cadien or Iternis all seemed good enough company, and as long as she engaged them in her domain form on her terms, there would have been little harm possible for them to do. Azaris sighed. More than anything, she wanted influence. She wanted to take action and watch those around her scramble to make sense of its effects. But she was the only one here, and unfortunately she usually knew what she was doing.

Maybe she should contact Naaro. It would be wrong of her to leave her hero on earth with a promise of protection when her power was limited as it was. She was supposed to have a sort of mental link with him. It was time to test it out.

Naaro?

Wha- Azaris??

His reaction was as instantaneous as it was terrified. Understandable, considering that one, she had never taken the time to contact him after their initial encounter and two, she had given off the implication that she should not be disturbed. No matter. Circumstances change, and she no longer had anything better to do.

The one and only.

Do you require anything of me?

No, actually, I’m just checking in. How long has it been?

I suppose it has been quite a while since we’ve spok-

Naaro when I ask you how long it’s been I mean tell me how long it’s been, I legitimately have no idea.

Oh. It’s been around… seven years now? Yes.

Ah, not that bad then. How have you been?

...Not that I don’t want to talk to you, but I thought you said being bored was not a good reason for contact?

Naaro, this is different. I’m bored.

Ah.

So what have you been up to?

I left the cabin after a few months, and encountered some lighter skinned Alminaki. Humans, apparently. For reasons I still have yet to completely understand, the entire damn forest has been at war. Chief against chieftain against some man in a tree who called himself the Arbor King. He didn’t last very long. Long story short, I am a freelance assassin. There is good money to be made in war.

Ah. Not the most savory work, but she supposed the nature of the powers she bestowed kind of pushed him into it.

You seem much less… Formal, than our last encounter.

Azaris sensed that Naaro chose this word carefully. After all, it was considered rather rude to call a goddess a stone cold bitch.

Ah yes, speaking through a mental link definitely allows one’s thoughts to flow much smoother than scratching messages. It was not my intention to seem terse.

A lie, She actually quite liked seeming terse. It made her feel mysterious and intimidating, not to be trifled with. But it did not lend itself well to casual conversation, and she did not want to burn the bridge of her singular worshipper.

But yes, assassination is a fine use of your skills. As for me, I fear I may not be able to assist you in future endeavors, for the time being. I find myself stuck.

Stuck?

I have been relegated to a personal section of void. I can no longer access your planet. At present, it seems you are my only link to the universe.

Ah. That sounds… Bad.

I’ll be fine. I can still advise you, but do not count on me to bail you out if you encounter trouble.

I wouldn’t anyway. You owe me nothing of the sort.

Their business had concluded. Azaris could now go back to her seclusion, continue building her towers, do so for what could very well be eternity. But she could not bring herself to ignore her last true connection to the world. Maybe a friend was what she could use right now.

Anyway, have you had any interesting marks in your job?

A few. You remember I said the Arbor King didn’t last long?

Don’t tell me-

Yep. One second his followers were all ready to kill and die for him while he sat up in that oak tree, yelling profanities at the clouds, and the next, poof. This bow really is quite nice.

Azaris couldn’t help but snicker at the imagery; she had chosen her hero well. The conversation continued as she made her way outside the tower, eyes once again confronting the cold and dark expanse.

Hey Naaro, I’m trying to class this place up a bit. What do you think I should make?

How about a rabbit?

Naaro… that’s really fucking stupid.

They’re nice animals. You asked me, that’s my answer.

Fine. I will make one rabbit.

With a swirl of her hand, a fluffy white bunny waddled into existence, looking rather dopey next to the glimmering azure tower. Azaris hadn’t really needed to make it, but Naaro was right. She had asked.

It is rather adorable.

I told you. Nice animals.

Ok. I should really get back to work on this place. The emptiness is starting to be unnerving. I’ll probably end up contacting you again at some point.

With a sigh, Azaris continued construction of her city. It felt a little less horrible, having a connection to the outside world like that. And the rabbit was good company anyhow, even if it was rather confused being picked up by hands it was incapable of seeing. Her conversations with Naaro continued as well. For her, around a day passed between their talks. For him it was closer to fifty years. Through him, Azaris heard cities rise and fall, heroes die just as she learned their names. Naaro in particular seemed to move in and out of different fields of work according to his whims, his powers not exactly lending themselves well to a settled life. They laughed at the other's jokes as they continued on their respective paths. It was… rather nice having someone to confide in. And hearing of the goings on of the world reminded her that Galbar was still out there. existence went on, even if she couldn’t be a part of it. But while the truth could be cushioned, it could not be nullified. Azaris drifted up to her home tower and shoved her head into her hands.

Naaro.

Yes?

I don’t think I’m ever getting out of here. How long has it been?

1500 years.

It’s been 1500 years. And no matter how much of this stupid city I build, none of it changes anything. It’s just more space for me to go insane in. It’s nothing more than a distraction, and a bad one at that.

...Don’t give up hope.

The tone sounded more like a question than a genuine reassurance. It did nothing to soothe her mind.

Can I be honest with you?

Of course.

I’m terrified. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and pass the time in any way I can but I have no idea if time will even continue to be a relevant concept for my stay here. I can’t do this forever.

It’s just… I was supposed to be safe. Never revealing myself, always covering my tracks, always looking behind me. But none of it ended up mattering in the end. It found me and locked me in here without breaking a sweat. And I will live with that until time itself stops.


Azaris could hear Naaro fumbling for a response. As much as she loved her hero, there were some things that mortals could never understand. True, he did not age. But immortality tended to be a much more concrete concept for gods than heroes. In this sense, she really was alone. Whatever he was saying didn’t matter at this point.

I’m going to go for a little bit.

Not waiting for a response, Azaris ceased the mental link, lay her head on the glittering glass table, and waited. One moment later, her head unceremoniously dropped into a green grass field.



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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by King of Rats
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King of Rats

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Act Two, Scene Two: A meeting of like minds


Yamat stared at all the other gods, gathering in their groups, talking and conversing, happy to see one another after however long they have been stuck in their prisons. Some took others to their prisons, seemingly happy to show off their decorations. Yamat just stared at all his new actors, each one was sure to add more to his play, and there were more than enough to keep his plans going. Oh what a joyous day!

He scanned the crowd of gods, there was that naked furious one who just seemed to be angry constantly, there was Qael who had been speaking to some weird white haired god, oh! And Iternis, Yamat made sure he would talk to him again, there was that one god just lazing about, which he could respect, huh, there was Oraelia with what appeared to be a small child, he hoped she hadn’t figured out his actions in the prairie, he was sure it was fine by now.

That's when he saw her.

She stumbled into Oraelia and the child, suddenly, a new goddess, someone he hadn’t seen before, Yamat was, drawn to her. Of all the gods he had seen, she was, almost different in a way, Yamat couldn’t quite point it out there was just, something about her that drew him to her. He watched the trio have their conversation, they seemed to investigate the new goddess’ prison, they talked and talked, until, the new one moved on, she drifted off the ground. Yamat had to meet her.

He walked up to her, softly, to make sure he didn’t startle her suddenly, as soon as he drew close, he finally spoke out to her.
“Why hello there, a pleasure to see a new face here.”

The pale goddess, who had barely had time to float back towards the tear in reality leading towards her personal prison, managed to look briefly startled all the same. She twisted around in the air, laying azure eyes on Yamat. Initial shock turning to dispassionate suspicion, and the goddess pursed her lips into a soft frown. Still, she didn’t shy away from replying to his greeting. ”Oh, ...hello… Did you just arrive as well?”

“Well, i’ve been here for a slight bit, watching around and talking to all these new faces,” Yamat turned around to look at all the other gods, gesturing with his arms, before turning back towards the goddess. “Figured I might introduce myself to someone as captivating as you,” The god bowed deeply, ”Yamat, at your service.”

The pale goddess lifted her chin considerably, trailing his gaze as he turned to gesture at the others. She seemed apprehensive at the thought, and quickly focused back on Yamat. His words seemed to deepen her frown at first, although she did her best to maintain neutrality. A hand extended up to run along her hair as he bowed, fingers briefly touching at her horn. “...Neiya. I am the Goddess of Love. What service are you to me, Yamat?”

Yamat straightened himself up, gazing upon Neiya, she was proving to be incredibly interesting, a goddess of love, is that why he was so drawn to her? “Well, I suppose that depends on the love, and, which one you are.” Yamat was growing more and more curious about her.

”-Which one-?” Neiya replied, huffing a sharp breath and closing her eyes briefly. She parted her lips as if to speak, then instead moved fingers to press against her right temple just in front of the obsidian horn. She opened her eyes to watch the god once more, a building frustration clear on her features as she drifted soundlessly towards him in the air. Her hand lifted slowly from her own face, extending towards Yamat in turn. Sedate fingers stretched towards his face, undaunted - unlike her earlier apprehension with the other gods. ”Let me show you.”

Yamat was, for the first time since his creation, slightly worried, but he could not lie that his curiosity had hit its peak, what did she mean by show him? He accepted the hand drawing towards him, ever curious. Neiya placed her pale hand where his cheek would be beneath the mask, her fingers cradling the mask gently. With a baited breath, her eyes focused on his face. As her fingers settled, a flood of emotion, memories and experiences rushed across the tenuous physical connection, assaulting Yamat’s mind with a torrent of new emotion. Joy, happiness, kinship, all fleeting and brief in the warm, longing feel they imparted. The maelstrom shifted, twisting into mortals crying, intense grief, the hollow despair of loss and heartbreak. Brief glimpses of Neiya’s own experiences on Galbar, interspersed with two millennia’s worth of mortal emotional pain, thoroughly drowning out the brief moments of pleasant emotion. The horned goddess watched him with deep, sorrowful fascination, her own eyes welling up with tears as Yamat’s halo began to tinge the same shade of blue as her icy stare.

Yamat’s arm slowly drew upwards, shaking softly, he gripped Neiya’s arm, slowly pushing it off his mask, his face and outward appearance never changing, the halo turning once more to its golden yellow. “So...that’s why I was drawn to you…” Yamat let Neiya’s arm fall, “I apologize, some proper introductions are in order.” He took a slight step back, once more performing a bow, this time far more extravagant, his lanky body doubling over, and his left hand extended outward. “Yamat, God of Tragedy, something,” He straightened up once more, “I believe you are familiar with, Neiya.”

The horned goddess flexed her fingers slowly, lowering it to her side as she regarded Yamat’s redoubled efforts to introduce himself. ”Tragedy,” she repeated with a dissonant sigh. ”...So you understand. The pain of the mortal world.” Neiya slowly touched down on the ground before him, greying the dirt to slowly match the bleak landscape in the portal behind her. ”I see now, another to carry the burden.”

Yamat watched as Neiya drifted down, the greying dirt reminded him of his own prison “Yes, the, dark side of the mortal world is not unknown to me, but, as the god I am, I have come to accept my position in this great play.” He extended his hand outward to Neiya “But, it is great to know there is another who has seen what I have seen, a like mind in this world.”

She extended her hand in turn, a graceful grasp of his hand to mimic the motion she’d learnt two millennia ago - and shook it with the same cold tranquility as she seemed to do her best to exude at other times. ”What is a play, Yamat?” she queried after a few moments, allowing her gaze to study the god in full. ”And how do I know my position in it?”

“Well…” Yamat paused, never having had to actually answer that question before “A play is, in the best way I can describe it, a performance, the mortal world, and ours, to me at least, are a magnificent play, performing our duties as actors would upon a stage, as for your role.” Yamat gestured all around them once more “You only need to remind yourself of where and who you are, a god is a fitting lead role if i do say so myself.”

”A lead role...” The goddess murmured in distant thought, before zoning back to reality. ”I rather like that, Yamat. Perhaps I have been too passive for a goddess of my station,” she pondered aloud. ”The mortals pine for me, but only intermittently.”

Yamat’s eye seemed to brighten at the goddess’ comment. “Of course Neiya, a lead role should be active within their play, making their presence known.” He pondered for a second, his curiosity for Neiya having dwindled now replaced with utter fascination. “Perhaps then Neiya, that, is the service I can provide? A lead role always needs its support.”

The horned goddess lifted her chin once more, usurping a certain regal air to her composure as Yamat continued to fuel the fire of her ego. Following his words, she lifted up off the ground, glancing out over what she could behold of Antiquity. ”...Yes. You’re right,” she began, convincing herself more than agreeing with Yamat. She turned in the air to glance at her prison behind her, frowning briefly. ”Maybe you have some ideas, on how I could improve my-... role, as you said.”

“Well, it's obvious you have some presence upon the mortal world, but perhaps it’d be best to expand upon it? Gather some of your faithful, give them a cause? Ensure your name spreads in some way,” Yamat too gazed towards Neiya’s prison, finding comfort in its likeness to his own “A beautiful realm by the way.”

That seemed to catch the Love Goddess off-guard, and she looked back to Yamat with surprise. “Rea-... Thank you,” she managed, changing her composure mid-sentence. A few awkward seconds later, she gestured towards it. ”Would you like to see the rest of it? You can tell me more about your ideas.”

Yamat nodded, a soft smile creeping behind his mask, hidden to the goddess, it felt, genuine somehow. “I’d be happy to,” He gestured an arm towards the portal “Lead the way.” Following behind the goddess as she led him into the realm.



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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Dewfrost97
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Dewfrost97

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Gibbou and Fe’ris


The paper screen slid aside with ease as Tskauchi snuck his way into the darkened room, careful to keep his robes from snagging on the damp wood paneling. During the day, Daimyo Praeka’s throne room would’ve been bustling, full of groveling Reshut trying to curry favor with the powerful warlord. But now, the paper lanterns were extinguished, the warm sunlight replaced with nothing but cold stars. Indeed, all those who could see him were but the distant pinpricks of light and the chirping insects in the nearby marshes. He was safe.

Quieter than a snake, he slid across the wood grain, making his way on silent, bare feet to the mound of pillows his father sat on during waking hours. He would have to be extremely careful now, as even the slightest skin-to-skin contact with the hemlock hidden in his robes would be fatal. The hemlock alone would never be able to penetrate the daimyo’s long, flowing robes. But the sharp pin, doused in the plant’s fatal toxin? That would do splendidly. He extracted a small bronze pin, long but thin, and coated it in the poison— carefully, carefully. Satisfied with its deadliness, Tsukauchi arranged the pin in the pillows, so that it would be unnoticed until sat upon and by then, it would be too late. Yes, it was nearly invisible amidst the colorful cushions and fabrics.

As quietly as he had entered, Tsukauchi left. He knew he would need a good night’s sleep to be properly prepared for the chaos that the next day would bring.

~~~

Daimyo Praeka leapt to his feet, clutching his thigh and howling. Tsukauchi turned his head, doing his best to appear concerned as his father hopped around, knocking over expensive ornamental vases, crashing into servants holding platters of exotic fruits, screaming and wailing before eventually collapsing onto the floorboards. From his position, he could just barely glimpse the long, broken spire poking out of the daimyo’s lower thigh, swathed in miles of expensive fabric. The warlord struggled to one leg and pointed viciously at the pile of pillows, his snarl apparent even under the mask.

“Snake! Snake! Something bit me!”

Tsukauchi’s other siblings all jumped to their feet as well, climbing over one another to get away from the danger. The servants held the wide platters up as shields, looking around for the serpent. The eldest Reshut prince even joined in on the search, sweeping his arms out to protect the younger ones from the animal he knew wasn’t there, if only to play the part. He was very grateful for his own mask, as it made it that much easier to hide the massive grin stretching across his face.

“My lord,” proposed one brave servant, as they fruitlessly searched the pillow pile, “are you sure it was a snake? We cannot seem to locate any such creature.”

“It’s there,” spat the daimyo, his breathing labored. “My leg burns like fire.”

“Father,” crooned Tsukauchi, slowly approaching the wounded Reshut, “allow me to examine your leg. It must be hurting fiercely.”

“Fine,” hissed Praeka. “The rest of you will continue to look for it. I will not be satisfied until its severed head is brought to me!”

“As you wish,” chorused the servants, one of whom had already whisked the remaining heirs and heiresses to something safer. Tsukauchi allowed his father to lean on him as the two hobbled to a different part of the royal palace. They quickly found an empty room, secluded by screens of rushes from the noises of royal negotiations and proceedings. Tsukauchi laid his father prone on the tatami mat. Already, the prince could tell that his father’s breathing was labored, his muscles tensing up. He was that much closer to the title of daimyo, and the prospect had all eight feet of his body bubbling with glee.

Tsukauchi grabbed swathes of robes in his fists, sweeping aside coil after coil of silk, cotton, and linen. His movements were rushed, but the fabric just kept falling back into place. Finally, having felt he had stalled long enough, he exposed bare black skin, swollen and sour from where the pin had entered it.

“Well? What do the bite marks look like? It was a snake, it must’ve been.” Tsukauchi’s smile faded as he realized that, though the toxins had successfully entered his father’s bloodstream, it would take far too long to do any lasting damage. The dosage was not nearly enough. When the nurses finally arrived and removed the pin, they’d find a way to purge it from his body entirely. The prince had failed.

“Yes, father, it was a snake. I can see the wound now.” He pinched the thin, needle-like blade and slowly drew it out, spurting forth navy blue blood. He quickly wiped it on his father’s robe, then slipped it within his own. Anyone looking at the wound would think it was some sort of single-fanged creature. That didn’t make sense. Mind racing, Tsukauchi came up with a new plan. A shoddy plan. But one that should hopefully work anyway, before they were intruded upon. “Oh, oh no.” He allowed his voice to fall, taking on a note of horror. “I’ve seen a bite like this before.”

“You have? Where?” The elder Reshut tried to roll his head around, stomach pressed to the floor, to see what Tsukauchi was looking at. But the prince simply pressed down on the small of his back, keeping his face in the mat.

“It was during my training as an envoy. We were in the field, practicing navigating across the swamps. One of my fellow trainees slipped, and his leg went into the mire. When he came out, he had a bite just like this. He only survived because he ate something green.” A weak lie, but a good enough one.

“Green?” His voice was alarmed. “Then get me something green! Hurry, there’s no time to waste!” Tsukauchi rolled his eyes, but did as asked… to a degree. He ran up to the paper door, slid it open, slid it shut, then pretended to run it off. Thirty seconds later, he did the same process in reverse, running up and kneeling by his father’s head.

“I got the first thing I could find.” He presented the hemlock, hoping the old fool would cram it down his throat without a second thought. Sure enough, Praeka snatched it with one hand, lifted the intricate mask adorning his face with another, and horked it down, not even pausing to smell it or taste it. Instantly, the Reshut went into convulsions, white foam dripping down his neck. Disgusted, Tsukauchi stood, rolling his father onto his back with one foot. Gurgling noises arose from his throat as the froth pooled and bubbled in his mouth, blocking air and drowning him in his own reaction to the poison. Wheezing noises issued from the long, lanky chest as the hemlock shut down his respiratory system. The flailing grew feebler and feebler as the great warlord Daimyo Praeka drowned in his own spit.

Carefully, carefully, making sure to not touch any of the saliva, Tsukauchi hooked a finger under the white mask and lifted it up to get a glimpse of the face that had sired him. Bulging blue eyes looked back up at him with glazed malice, set deeply into a wrinkled, misshapen, and sallow face, pores dilated and weeping the fluids of death. Disgusted, Tsukauchi lowered it back down. He would take the memory to his grave.

He rose back to his full height, the lantern light flickering ominously around him. The prince took a deep breath, stealing himself for the performance he was about to give.

“Help, help! There’s something wrong with the daimyo! He’s dying! Help!” His cries of desperation were met by a dozen sets of running feet, shaking the delicate palace walls. But perhaps, it was the excited beating of Tsukauchi’s heart that really shook them.




Gibbou had been spending her time since leaving Cadien’s realm on a bench in the Antiquity, sufficiently hidden from most sources of light. She had been observing mortality below through a mirage of moon dust, observing life in the night as she had promised her sister she’d do. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but millennia of this had taught her to ignore certain natural processes - the tigers in the night had to eat, too, after all.

However, a certain event taking place in the Kylsar Isles had her blood boiling - intentional murder, of one’s own father no less, all to usurp his position. She felt her form flicker between its human shape and the wickedness of the night, her skin seeming to blacken and her eyes turning blood red. She coalesced the moon dust mirage into a stone and, taking aim, sent it flying into the cosmos with a mighty rage.

As if he had simply materialized from her bad thoughts, Fe’ris was by her side, watching the stone soar away into infinity. “Oh, Lady of the Night, what troubles you so, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Gibbou barely even reacted, though the darkness in her skin retracted somewhat. When she turned to Fe’ris, the redness in her eyes had reduced to a mere case of bloodshot veins. ”Oh, Fe’ris, you magnificent bat… Sorry, I was just… Ugh… There’s this mortal - this utter-- ugh! He killed his father in the night - MY night - all so he could snatch his title and lands. I mean-- who does that?! What happened to patience? To, to, to waiting for your due inheritance, huh?”

He nodded apologetically. “Ambition can do that to some, who feel they have a right to power and prestige before their time is due. It is an unfortunate reality. I would do something to curb such heinous acts, but I feel it would infringe on free will to ban such things outright. If only there existed some discouragement, some cosmic retribution to keep the greedy better in line…” The bat god sighed, torn between the ideals of morality and freedom. “You wouldn’t happen to have such an idea, would you?”

The moon goddess drummed her right fingers impatiently on her opposite arm. ”As a matter of fact, I might… But I hope my sister never finds out about it.” She turned to Fe’ris with a frown. ”Mortals this one want power, huh? Fine. We’ll give them power - in fact, we’ll give them so much power that they won’t be satisfied by a normal life anymore. No, they shall regret ever even thinking about killing for ambition! She snapped her fingers and a ball of shadow appeared between them. Gibbou started twisting and turning both her hands in a circular motion above the orb, slowly spinning it outwards into a disk. ”Those whose hearts are as black as the night sky and think their ambitions to be above the lives of those they kill for them - know forever that the night will be your prison for your crimes. You wanted power? Oh, you shall have power. May your curse make you strong, fast, immortal even! But the second you think you are above the night and walk into the day, you will perish to dust at the dawn of the very first ray.” She eyed Fe’ris. ”What you think? Needs more?”

“Umm…” Fe’ris scratched at his pseudo-beard, thinking it over. “It’s definitely, erm, creative. But I feel it would only affect a few, select people. Would they not die too soon, crumbling to dust before they could learn the horrors of what they’ve done to themselves in their hunger for power? And I feel there could be more bats involved. Maybe they can turn into bats, or turn other people into bats. Clouds of bats!” He clasped his claws together in glee. “Yes. Bats. Everywhere, descending from above to dole out justice! Tiny harbingers of death, emissaries of the night! Muahahahaha!” He got a little caught up in the fantasy, rambling on about bats for a weird amount of time.

”B-but… Bats are kind and sweet! They eat fruit and insects for the most part!” moped Gibbou with a frown. ”I don’t want them anywhere near these, these monsters!”

“Okay,” he conceded, trying not to pout. But his questions about the curse remained. “How will they survive? It should be a great challenge, to not go in the sunlight. A temptation, even. Like their sustenance is diurnal, but to witness Oraelia directly would mean death. Perhaps they must pick fruit that only comes out in daylight?”

”No, they’d definitely die… Do we even want these kinds of people to live? Like, sure, they have to stand as a symbol - show mortalkind what you’re -not- supposed to do in this world, but…” She hummed thoughtfully. ”No, you’re right - they should be able to sustain themselves. But on what? Something… Something thematic for the fact that they draw blood for their ambitions...

Fe’ris grinned. “The perfect punishment. Extracting from others what they cannot make themselves. An insatiable lust for blood, haunting them the rest of their immortal lives. I could never come up with something so apt myself. What shall we call the monsters?”

”Wait, we’re actually going with haemophagia?” The moon goddess gagged a little. ”Ugh, I hate them already. They’re perfect. Turning into these nasty, blood-drinking monsters shall be the fate of all who murder for their ambitions! And they shall be called… Vampires!




Tsukauchi struggled to sit upright as the commemorative platinum crown was placed atop his head, balancing atop his robe precariously. The light filtering in the paper screens, illuminating the huge crowd of Reshut that had gathered below for the coronation, only made him more uncomfortable. He didn’t know why he felt so terrible. First, there had been the photosensitivity. Then, he’d begun to sweat blood, the same clear color as his eyes. His appetite for swamp fruits left him, replaced with a yearning for raw meat. His stomach rumbled and sweat dropped into his eyes. The young prince squirmed, hoping nobody would notice, but knowing deep down that all eyes were on him.

“Congratulations, your lordship,” crowed Admiral Akihito, a longtime friend and partner of his father’s, “on your rise to power. Your father was a great leader. He shall be sorely missed.”

“Sorely,” whined Tsukauchi, eager for the ceremony to be over with. The admiral bowed before him, as was customary, and a patch of exposed skin appeared at the intersection of his robes and mask. It wasn’t much, merely an inch or so of night-dark flesh. But it was enough.

Something evil roared within Tsukauchi, something massive and uncontrollable, and before he knew what he was doing, he had thrown aside his mask, plunging his teeth into the naps of the admiral’s neck. Blood gushed in fountainous spurts from the wound, filling the now-daimyo’s mouth faster than he could greedily suck it down. He was too invested to hear the horrified gasps, or the screams, or the pounding of feet belonging to Reshut that tried to pry him away. He just kept drinking, belly distending beyond the confines of his robes, until the poor admiral had nothing left to offer. Finally, horribly, he let his jaws unclamp. Power, delicious power, surged through his body, bordering on divine. When he scanned the hall, he saw not friends, family, and subjects, but sacks of meat, ripe for the harvesting.

Realization slowly crept upon Tsukauchi, as furious arms hauled him to the ground, lashing him still. Shocked voices shouted obscenities and questions at him, but they couldn’t be further away. They had seen his face. They had seen him kill a man. He had to flee.

With his newfound strength, Tsukauchi threw them aside like he would’ve a bothersome clump of cobwebs, and, robes billowing around him, fled into the safety of the gloomy swamps of Kyslar.





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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by BootsToBoot
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Incarnation


Nestled in the foothills of the Anchor Mountains, overlooking both the verdant Gardens and the vast Blood Basin, on the outskirts of the small town of Harri, which inturn was on the outskirts of the domain of Virfeild, the young Halmond tenderly encouraged his lover, Alla, as she was giving birth. As a whole, it should have been a happy and beautiful scene, as all births should be, but this particular trial was soiled just a little by the fact that no midwife would come and the mother was half Alminaki.




“My father had lived a relatively easy life. When he was born, seventeen years earlier, none other than the Western Winvir, Olmon Red-Vein, recognized him as Halmond during his Naming Ceremony. His uncle was the Lord of Garren and had served under Olmon back when he had merely been a Birman. This, in addition to my triple-great grand Aunt, who was a Tasslman and the Vir’s personal witch, meant that my father had both great expectations for his military career and everything he could ever want.”

“My mother was not so lucky. Her father was a wandering Alminaki who stayed with her mother, a peasant, for exactly ten months. After their daughter, Allakamina, was born, he was driven off because he refused to join the Grand Army and forsake his ties to the Alminaki for his wife and daughter. My grandmother decided that she was willing to sever her ties with him and the foreighn sounding part of their daughter’s name. As the now named Alla grew older, she took to always trimming the saffron feathers that lined her brow but she had a very hard time hiding the russet colored skin her dad had given her.”

“Neither of their lives could have possibly prepared them for the wonderful- but ultimately disastrous- happenstance of meeting each other. It had happened the summer before last. For Halmond’s sixteenth birthday, his father had sent him to live with his cousin, working for his stay and training for his eventual enlistment. Alla happened to be working as a servant in Halmond’s cousin’s household, tending to the lord’s young daughters whenever he and his wife were serving their term in the Grand Army. They were both young and my father was handsome and confident, except in my mother’s presence, while she was kind yet driven and ambitious. The two seemed to gravitate towards each other and, since the Grand Army had just left the Western Territory the summer before, both had few responsibilities and lots of free time to sneak off into the woods.”

“The Winter had been an oddly cold one and Halmond had injured his leg, forcing him to have to spend most of his time alone in his room, which was near the servant’s quarters. Alla was all too eager to try and help Halmond recover, as she did know a little about healing. Halmond stayed in that bed for quite a while, even with Alla constantly visiting him, sometimes even during the night! It was no surprise to anyone who listened to gossip when come spring time my mother was pregnant.”

“Being from a reputable family, my father wasn’t supposed to get married or have children until after his first term in the Grand Army, and he would be (preferably) married to former Rouman, not a half-breed servant girl. Halmond’s cousin, out of the kindness of his heart ot maybe just wanting to avoid the scandal, was willing to hide the fact that the whole affair had happened as long as Alla either got rid of the baby or, if she wanted to keep it, leave their house forever and claim she didn’t know who the father was.”

“My mother took the second option and was forced out of the only place that had ever offered her stability. It was an unfortunate shock to my dad's side of the family when it turned out that he actually cared for Alla and quickly followed her into exile. The two travelled together away from the heart of the Western Territory and towards it’s fringes, trying to survive while hiding from my grandfather, who had been sending men to try and bring the wayward son home. They didn’t know where they were heading, besides away. Eight months into their journey, when they had just left the town of Harri, Alla’s water broke.”

“The contractions started soon after and my parents found themselves in an old abandoned hut with no water, no medicinal herbs to help the birth, and certainly no midwife. On that autumn night, several miraculous things happened that coincided with my birth. If you were to believe my father, which you shouldn’t, it was my birth that caused them.”

“First, my father swore he saw hundreds of shooting stars, streaking across the sky all while my mother was in labor. A tremendously significant event that I have already seen at least three times in my lifetime.Second, (and least miraculous) the Anchor Mountains failed to shake, even though they had been resting for twenty years to the date. Evidently, my father liked to think that the birth of one child fought off a ritual tragedy that was never as punctual as the tales liked to tout. Lastly, my mother swore she had seen a soft, golden light fill the entire room, accompanied by godly singing. While I would usually dismiss this whole sale as simply her hallucinating from the pain of giving birth, my father corroborates the story so I only dismiss it part sale.”

“Either way, it was apparently incredibly poor singing, so it may have just been a passing woodsman with an exceptionally bright lantern. All three non-events supposedly marked me as a child of great destiny, as foretold by no one and heralded by two teenagers, desperately trying to convince themselves that their lives would turn for the better. As of yet, I don’t suppose they have and besides that one time I managed to not be killed by a flock of angry stone birds, I don’t think I’ve had anything remotely resembling a great destiny.”





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Oraelia, Genesis & Illyd Dyll





Genesis had been minding her own business, trying her best to recreate the moon makeup that Gibbou has shown her to no avail. Eventually, as her levels of frustration were reaching their maximum and she found herself merely playing around with the soil, she heard something new. A melody… Simple and calm, which made her think of Oraelia. Now, Oraelia herself was right next to Genesis, but the melody itself was new and mysterious!

Indeed, there was only one thing to do when something new and mysterious happened… And that was to check it out. There was no reason to be scared anymore, really, as Genesis was sure Oraelia would go with her… But she seemed to be busy thinking of something, and Genesis suddenly felt ashamed and embarrassed for wanting to interrupt her, so the plant girl just stood up and walked towards the source of the melody, a god swinging from a Hammock between two oddly lonely trees. Upon getting close enough, Genesis sat on her knees on the ground and closed her eyes in order to listen better.

”A lonely little lass walks up across the grass.”

Illyd strummed, friendly eyes watching Genesis.

”But what does she see?
A friendly face from recent past.”


The strumming stopped..

”What’s a good rhyme for ‘past’?” Illyd Dyll was hanging over the lip of his hammock now, his voice genuine and lost.

”Past!” Piped in Genesis with a little hop where she sat. ”Song man, are you the one that distracted Cadien the Giraffe? Genesis escaped because of Song man.”

“Cadien the Giraffe!” Illyd Dyll laughed to himself. ”I guess I did, then, didn’t I?”

”Mh.” Genesis opened her golden colored eyes and squinted at Illyd Dyll, ”Can Song man tell what a rhyme is?”

"It's when one word sounds like another," Illyd answered simply. Counting off his fingers he added, "Like branch and... Well more like orange and... Um... Oh! Like apple and grapple or tree and free."

Genesis frowned and mouthed the words. ”Tree… Free… Ah! Bee, pee!” She said excitedly, before stopping and tilting her head, ”What is a grapple?”

"It's like when you mix a grape with an apple," Illyd Dyll explained. He waved a hand and a tiny purple apple appeared between his fingers. He extended it to Genesis, "See?" She stuck her tongue out and scrunched up her nose in disgust.

”Eeew. Song man knows he’s talking of like… Fruit?! Trees make babies with fruit. Genesis knows this because the trees told her.” She said proudly.

”Oh I’m sorry,” Illyd Dyll flicked the grapple away and folded his fingers together. ”But ye know, a fruit is already-” He stared down at the innocent face and gulped. ”Well ye gotta understand that a fruit is the offspring of the tree.”

As if it was possible, Genesis’ face twisted even more in confusion, ”Um… But… Genesis is not a fruit? But Genesis doesn’t know if she’s a tree… Song man, what is Genesis? Can Genesis make fruits?” She asked genuinely distraught.

A light flashed in Illyd’s eyes, ”Of course ye can make fruit!” He nearly hopped out of his hammock -- but his foot got caught on the way out causing him to toppled onto his face with a thud. Without hesitation he picked himself up and floods of various seeds began to pour from his hands, in reaction to which Genesis jumped up to her feet with a small gasp, ”We jus’ gotta pick what kind of fruit you want to make!”

She looked at the seeds for a long time and then at the smiling Illyd Dyll for an equally long time, then back at the seeds… And then back at Illyd Dyll… And then she stared for way too long with a neutral face.

”Genesis wants a big brother to play with.”

“Oh I got jus’ the fruit for that!” Illyd Dyll said with a buzzing excitement. He tossed the wave of seeds behind him and held up a single black bullet looking one. With a flick of his finger, he sent it snapping into the ground. Within moments the ground let out a groan and then a crackle -- then a leathery green vine burst out and curled between the two gods. The vine pulsed and at the very end it began to form a bulb. The sound of rushing water forced this bulb to grow and grow until -- plop!

A mighty watermelon the size of Genesis slammed onto the ground between the two gods, the striped pattern of the fruit shaped into that of a smiling face. Illyd Dyll patted the top of the monstrous fruit. ”Nothin’ better than a watermelon to play with,” he said past a proud grin.

Genesis knelt in front of the watermelon and gently felt its surface with her hands, smiling back at the smiley face on the large fruit. After a minute or so she beamed up at Illyd Dyll, ”THANK YOU! Song man made a big brother for Genesis! He made a big brother for Genesis!!” She repeated, grabbing the watermelon with quite a bit of effort and running over to the nearby Oraelia at which point she called her attention with a grunt and a bit of happy quick breathing.

The Sun Goddess looked down at Genesis, raising an eyebrow. ”Where did you…? Wait- How long was I… Did you run off Genesis?” she asked, crouching down. ”And why do you have a melon?”

Genesis let out a high pitched happy squeak and nodded vigorously, ”You see, you see, the song man was making music! So Genesis wanted to go there with Oralia Sun but you were thinking, so Genesis felt bad and went alone… Then, you see! He taught Genesis what a rhyme is, like Bee and Pee. And then he said some yucky things about fruits and seed...” Genesis stuck out her tongue like she did before, ”But! After that, Genesis asked for a big brother! So the song man gave Genesis his seed and made a brother for her. Her brother is very happy, see??” She explained, showing Oraelia the smiley face on the watermelon.

The sun seemed to pale as she looked at Genesis then her ‘brother’. ”G-Genesis…?” she said, falling to her knees as she used her hands to fuss over the plant girl, who giggled over the sudden attention. ”D-Did he… He didn’t touch you, did he? You don’t hurt? Where did brother come from?” she asked, worry in her voice.

Seeing Oraelia act like that, Genesis suddenly felt weird again, and piped down. ”H-he… Planted the seed then her brother grew. Genesis thinks he did it because she asked him if she could have fruit like the trees. Song man is nice, he planted his seed for Genesis… Sorry. Genesis won’t be a bad girl, please don’t hate her.” She pleaded quietly.

Oraelia stroked Genesis’ face gently, a relaxed sigh escaping her mouth. ”Oh honey, you’re not a bad girl.” she said, pulling her into a hug. ”And I could never hate you. Ever. I just was worried. You can talk to me, even interrupt me. It’s better than not telling me where you’re going, love.” she pulled back, smiling softly as her glow returned. ”Now… How about you show me song man? I’d like to meet him.”

Genesis slowly returned the smile, then beamed and nodded again, running the short distance over to Illyd Dyll by his hammock.

”Song man, Genesis brings Oralia. Genesis loves her, can you give her a brother too? Pleaseee!” When Oraelia caught up, Genesis turned to her and nodded toward Illyd Dyll, ”He is Song man! He makes music.”

Illyd Dyll peeked out of his hammock, his strumming hitting a sour note when his eyes fell on the newcomer. He flashed a crescent smile, “Hey! How are ye?”

”I am… Doing well. Thank you for asking, Song man.” Oraelia said, visibly relaxing with a smile. ”Name’s Oraelia, pleasure to meet you.”

"My name is Illyd Dyll," The god answered as he climbed out of his hammock to stand straight. "But if callin' me Songman is easier for ye, I won't fuss."

”Illyd Dyll.” she said his name aloud. ”I like that name. It’s a pleasant one.” she said. ”I’ve come to understand that you’ve given Genesis here a brother? That was very kind of you. You have my thanks, Illyd.” Genesis beamed once more.

"It's not a problem, ma'am," Illyd Dyll beamed as well. A sudden thought pecked at the god and he quickly added, "Oh! Has anyone told either of ye about the avatars?"

She gave a half nod. ”Is that what we’re calling them?” she said with a laugh. ”My sister, Gibbou, told me something like it. A piece of our power or soul right?” she asked.

"Yeah!" Illyd smiled wide, "Good, I was jus' makin' sure ye knew. I already sent myself down to Galbar to see it. I'm pretty excited, already I can see why Cadien likes the place so much." His smile faltered only a little, "Though I do wish I coulda seen it personally."

She tilted her head. ”You were never there? I’m sorry to hear that… It was- Is, a beautiful place.” she said with a sympathetic smile.

"I have no doubt about it," Illyd nodded, "And it is only going to get more beautiful. What with fields of wheat, crooked apple groves, and harvest feasts. It's going to be great."

”Oh? What might your power be?” she asked him, shifting her feet.

"My power?" Illyd Dyll seemed surprised, "Same as everyones' I believe. I create! Watch!"

He made a tiny hand motion and three tiny purple grapples appeared between the fingers of one of his hands, "Want a grapple?"

She giggled and took the grapple, examining it. ”No, you misunderstand. I mean, what do you control? Like, I’m the Goddess of the Sun. You’re the God of…?” she said, taking a bite.

Illyd copied the giggle with a laugh of his own, "That depends on who ye ask. Personally, I think of myself as the God of Agriculture." He pondered a moment, "Yep. Agriculture."

She chewed with a smile on her face. ”Delicious and wonderful! I’m so happy my sun can let you thrive on Galbar. To think… Agriculture. I suppose you have a lot of plans for Galbar? With your avatar? Helping mortals grow food and what not?” she said, taking another bite.

"I haven't quite figured anything out yet," Illyd Dyll looked almost embarrassed, "Ye see I only recently even figured out about all this myself. But yeah, that all sounds lovely to me. Sharin' the harvest. Makin' crops."

"It does sound lovely, doesn't it?" she mused. "I once passed through a verdant land, full of juicy fruits and delicious vegetables. Now I know why it was there, for mortals of course. I know not who made it, but you should have your avatar take a look. See what it's become."

Genesis looked up at the mention of the word ‘lovely’ and left her brother behind, covered in the mud she had been putting around his face. She skipped over to Oraelia and pulled on her hand, ”Oralia,” she said, then when Oraelia bent down closer to her, Genesis whispered in her ear, ”Genesis wants to go home and try to make the thing to go to ‘Gabar’.”

Oraelia blinked and gave Genesis a small nod before standing up again. "It seems you've inspired Genesis here with a spark of creation, Illyd. I do suppose we should go try to make these 'avatars' and figure out how the world fares." she said shuffling. She then flashed him a warm smile. "It was nice to meet you and if ever you require my assistance with anything, don't hesitate to ask Illyd."

"Likewise!" Illyd nodded, a small smile forming on his face as he leaned back against the tree, "I'll see ye two around, then?

”Absolutely!” Oraelia waved as she began to walk to her portal with Genesis in tow.




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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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Letters from the Duke of Zhou 1 - The Tale of Chu and Ba



To the respected duke of the Song warrens,

Allow me first to express my most gracious greeting to a fellow, worthy duke - many difficulties plague our lands and lives, so pleasures such as these are too few and too far in between. It has come to my attention that the lightfurs of the Lower Warrens under Your esteemed leadership have grown rowdy and rebellious of late, yet nothing your peacekeepers do seems to mend the situation. As such, our mutual friend, the venerable duke of Qin, made contact with me on your behalf so I may offer my counsel in this matter.

It is in times like these that I remember what happened in the warrens of Chu and Ba. As I’m certain you know, the warren of Chu once had a wealthy gentleman named Sima Wen, and he was beloved by all of Chu. Likewise, the warren of Ba had a virtuous huntress named Zeng Yun, and she, too, was beloved in all of Ba. The day then came when the warrens of Chu and Ba both fell into unrest, darkfurs and lightfurs, warrens high and low - all in a great rumble. So the lords of Chu sent word to Sima Wen, while the lords of Ba sent word to Zeng Yun. Sima Wen and Zeng Yun were both tasked with bringing peace to the Warrens, for theirs was great love and respect among the people; however, Sima Wen could only convince the high warrens to settle down, while Zeng Yun only calmed the low warrens. Thusly fell the great warrens of Chu and Ba into decline.

For you see, respected duke - the wealthy gentleman Sima Wen, while beloved in all the warrens shafts and tunnels, knew not the squalls and hardships of the lightfurs, and thus could not relate to them; likewise, while the virtuous huntress Zeng Yun was beloved in all the warren’s caves and holes, she knew not the rituals and customs of the darkfurs, and thus could not speak to them. The lesson we as scholar-gentlemen - as proper junzi - must take away from stories such as these, is that we cannot expect those of great fame and renown to simply bypass our societal customs. In order to reach out to our warrenmen - all of them - we cannot rely on status alone; a leader with titles and no charisma cannot even lead the bees to nectar.

My proposal to you, respected duke, is therefore to recall your peacekeepers - funnel instead your resources into understanding and learning from your lightfurs. Gain their trust, their respect, their love, but make certain that you do not lose the support of your darkfurs in the process. Do this, and the warrens of Song will no doubt last longer than any hare can live.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours, and may the gods forever grant you fortune.

With great respect,

Duke Kong Rui of Zhou.



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An Origin Story




After merging with the fragment of a god, Konrad would have thought that his life would drastically change.

But… it didn't.

He continued to work in the smithy, going about his everyday life, with his divine passenger asking him questions about his job, his village, and humanity in general. He did his best to answer, offering his own opinions as a humble village coppersmith. The village of Thyma was a small and prosperous village, owing to the local copper mine in the nearby mountain, which was the village's main livelihood. It was this copper they traded with other nearby settlements, in exchange for crops and other goods. They were just outside the range of Ketrefa's raiding parties, only seeing two incidents in living memory; both of which happened before Konrad was born.

Thyma was situated on a small hill, at the base of a mountain. From its mountainous position, the village appeared to well-protected by a wooden palisade, constructed after a raid in order to deter potential attackers. A local militia had also been assembled, to protect the community from threats. So far, they had managed to remain independent from any larger settlement.

As for the nature of humanity itself, Konrad was a smith. He was not a philis... a philas... a... whatever those 'intellectuals' in the more 'orderly' areas of the Highlands called themselves. Yet Mekellos was not deterred, and from the back of Konrad's mind began asking more questions. How he felt about certain things. Why his neighbour acted a certain way. Some of those questions were of matters that Konrad had never thought of before, and soon he found himself thinking more broadly of the world and his place in it. The conversations, while tedious at first, eventually became enjoyable.

In the meantime, the smith underwent a change. He had always been hairy and large-bellied; not what one would consider attractive, and desirable only because of his occupation. Yet as time went on, his body grew slimmer, the more excessive patches of body-hair began to recede. After a year, he woke up and his hair was white, which was something of a shock. Mekellos claimed he had only been making 'improvements.'

But the hair was the final straw. One morning, a dozen militiamen had assembled outside his house, with torches in hand. Both the village chieftain and the priest stood at their head.

"Konrad! What is the meaning of this?" Chieftain Brundt demanded. He was in his late thirties, his beard long and his hair lined with streaks of grey.

"The meaning of what?" Konrad questioned nervously, rubbing the last bit of sleep from his eyes.

"Your appearance!" the Chieftain snapped angrily. "Were you ever going to explain why your eyes changed? Why your hair is a different colour? What has happened to your body?"

"I... I have been blessed by Cadien," Konrad answered nervously.

The priest's eyes narrowed. He was an old, bitter man, with a bald head and a harsh face. "If you were blessed by Cadien, I think I of all people would know!" he snapped.

Mmmmmmmmmm.... no. I don't think you would, a baritone voice echoed in their minds. Everyone instinctively looked around to see who had spoken. Only Konrad remained still, frozen in shock, as he instinctively knew who the voice was.

"Who... who said that?" Brundt asked in a quiet voice.

'twas I, Cadien, and that 'priest' does not speak for me. The priest, who had been just as shocked as everyone else, suddenly paled, as all eyes turned to him.

But this smith... Konrad, his name is, does. He is the host of my avatar for the time being. And I will be quite furious if you run him out of this town.

Now the Chieftain paled. He pointed a shaking finger at the priest. "Thr-throw him out!" he shouted frantically. Three guards immediately moved to comply, grabbing the weak, protesting priest and hurriedly carrying him toward the gates. The Chieftain and the guards who still remained knelt before Konrad, who was both astonished and mollified by how this had all turned out.



Things quickly changed after that. Cadien never spoke to the village again, but he did not need to. Konrad had suddenly become the most important man in the community, with the chieftain constantly deferring to him for advice. It was a role he would never imagined himself occupying, but one he turned out to be well-suited for; his conversations with Mekellos had sharpened his mind like a blade on a whetstone. He could no longer dedicate as much time to his smithing duties, but one of the nearby villages had an excess coppersmith who was willing to take over his duties.

Konrad became the village's new spiritual guide, and soon found himself preaching Cadien's ideals to the village. To work hard, to always strive to better oneself, to bask in both your own glory and that of others, but to not take it for granted or become complacent. Although this particular village had put equal stock in the five so-called Patrons of Humanity - Cadien, Evandra, Tekret, Oraelia, and Neiya - worship of Cadien soon became the most prominent, for his avatar walked among them and guided them daily. Travelers from neighbouring communities came far and wide to hear Konrad speak.

He took the Chieftain's daughter - Lucia - as a wife. She was named after a wandering healer from legend. On his new wife, he sired four children. Karn was the first, born three years after Mekellos's arrival. Then came Evette, Alys, and Brundt, the latter being named for the village chieftain.

The four children, carrying the blood of a divine, soon proved to be remarkable. Most of them had inherited their father's pure white hair and violet eyes. They were all beautiful, fit, and bright, yet each had a particular aspect which they were supernaturally skilled in.

Karn would scrape his knee or suffer a bruise, only for his body to mend itself mere minutes later, and he never seemed to suffer any rashes or blemishes.

Evette was extraordinarily fast, and had lightning swift reflexes, sometimes seeming to react to things before they could even occur.

Alys possessed an unnatural beauty, and there was no doubt she would grow up to be the heartthrob of the entire village. However… she had a dark secret, Mekellos revealed to him one day. There was great power inside her, mighty and unstable. She would be a threat to everyone around her, including her own siblings. But according to Mekellos, there was a way to stop it. The power was tied to her emotions, so if they subdued her emotion, they would subdue her power. It broke Konrad’s heart, but if it was necessary to protect his home, and the rest of his family… then so be it.

Then there was Brundt, who was always unnaturally strong, capable of hoisting large objects - even other children - above his head with ease. Yet his own strength scared him at times, so he became quiet and withdrawn. He had black hair like his mother. If not for his violet eyes, some might have accused her of adultery.

There could be no doubt that these four children, blessed and gifted as they were, were capable of great things.



Mekellos had never intended to stay.

It was never meant to remain in one place for a remarkably long period of time. A few years in one body, then a few years in another, learning a bit here and there, and spreading Cadien's teachings, before moving on. That had been its intended purpose. Yet it felt drawn to its first host, and the life he had built. It was reluctant to walk away.

But it had to, for eventually Cadien decreed it. So, three years after the birth of Brundt, the Spirit of Perfection reluctantly withdrew from Konrad.

Konrad had been distraught, barely eating, and never speaking to anyone - not even his own wife or children - for weeks. Although the village did not know of Mekellos's departure, they too became fearful, worrying that Cadien had abandoned them, or that Konrad had foreseen some great doom they were hopeless against.

Konrad snapped out of it, however. One morning he realized his perfect body was going to waste. Then he looked upon his crying children. And he realized he had been a fool. He may no longer had Mekellos's power, but he had the Spirit's wisdom, its gifts, and most importantly, his responsibilities. Although he no longer received Mekellos's guidance, he realized he no longer needed it, for he could recall it all by heart. And so, he threw himself back into the role of father and spiritual leader, and in good time too; the village chieftain died the next year, and Konrad as the natural replacement. He soon proved himself to be an effective leader.



Time passed. Konrad's children continued to grow. Karn was thirteen years old. Evette was eleven. Alys was nine. Brundt was eight.

From the door of the village longhouse, Konrad smiled while watching Karn and Brundt chase each other across the village, whilst Evette and Alys watched, talking and laughing amongst each other. And with his siblings by his side, none would surpass him... if they didn't go on to marry into and take control of nearby tribes, which was also a possibility. His wife was nearby. He smiled contentedly and wrapped an arm around her waist. He thought of his breakdown five years earlier, and was glad he had not squandered all that lay before him.

He thought back to the tales he had heard in the following weeks. Tales of a savage tribe, a thousand strong, butchering all in their path, and supposedly heading this way. Konrad prayed those rumours were false, and that if they weren’t, that these marauders would miss his village. The village’s life was the mine; they could not afford to simply get up and abandon it.

His family had heard these rumours too, and even if some of them were too young to truly understand the danger, they knew something terrible might be coming. Their evening meal later that night was quiet.

Konrad had taken precautions. He had doubled the gate guards and had scouts patrolling the woods. More weapons were forged, and more time was dedicated to training. An evacuation plan was devised, in case the worst came to pass and the village fell. He just hoped it would be enough.

It wasn’t.



The attack came in the afternoon, when most of the village workers were toiling in the mine or the fields.

They came from the woods. Hundreds of them. Clad in furs, wielding weapons of bronze and copper, and screaming savage battlecries. Their faces were painted with the designs of an unknown tribe. There had been patrols stationed in the woods, meant to give a pre-emptive warning. Their heads now adorned spears carried by warriors at the rear. The sentries atop the platform next to the south gate, half asleep, jolted to attention and shouted an alarm.

A few arrows flew from the platform, but they might as well have been loosed into the ocean, for all the good they did. One or two attackers fell, but none were deterred. They came to a stop just before the gate.

A robed figure stepped forth from the crowd, and lowered his hood, to reveal a pale face with dark hair. He made a series of gestures, followed by a pushing motion toward the gate. Then there was a great splintering sound, as the gate quite literally fell over.

The mage nodded to another warrior - a big brute of a man, with orange hair, a bushy beard, a crooked nose, and a scar across his cheek. He hefted an axe over his shoulder, which he pointed at the opening his spellcaster had just created. “Go forth, my warriors, and show no mercy!” he roared, before he began charging, with hundreds of angry men and women at his heels.

They spilled into the village like tide, rampaging inward. Some warriors split off to ransack houses, while the majority followed their leader toward the village center. There, the last of the village’s resistance awaited.

The attack had taken Konrad by surprise. There had been no time to don his armour. Now he stood in the village center, with fewer than two dozen fighters standing by his side, most of them old men. He gripped his sword more tightly, and glanced off to the east, where the village’s civilians fled toward the north gate, his family among them. The best he could do now was buy them enough time to reach the mine, where they could join with the workers and flee.

With grim determination, he turned to face his attackers, ready to receive their charge…

Only for the enemy leader to call his men to a halt. “I am Dalkar, of the Kolaris Tribe!” he shouted. “Who would you be?”

“Konrad, of Thyma Village!” Konrad shouted back. He did not know why these words were being exchanged now, but they seemed to be buying time.

Dalkar grinned. The buildings behind him were already beginning to catch fire. “In the name of the Five, I challenge you to single-combat!”

Konrad took a few moments to think the offer over. At face value it seemed to be disproportionately in his favour; there was no hope that his paltry group of defenders could successfully hold off the attack. If he faced this ‘Dalkar’ in single combat and won, not only would he deprive the raiders of their leader, but he would also both demoralize and delay them in one fell swoop. He would not win the battle, but the rest of his tribe would survive.

“I accept,” Konrad declared, wondering if there was some sort of trick but realizing he was doomed either way.

With weapons in hand, the two warriors strode forth to meet one another. Dalkar reared his axe back for a swing…



Karn was scared.

He had always wanted to be a warrior. To march into battle. To protect the innocent. To vanquish evil. He thought he would relish the day that he would one day be allowed to raise a spear in his village’s defense.

But now his village was under attack, and he was nothing more than a scared and frightened boy.

They were fleeing with the rest of the crowd, positioned near the front. Brundt and Alys each held one of their mother’s hands. Brundt and Alys’s other hands were held by Karn and Evette respectively. “What about father?” Brundt asked.

“Your father is keeping us safe,” their mother said, holding back tears. “Just… st-stay close to me. Keep moving.”

They were approaching the northern gate, where they would follow the road to the mine. A pair of guards hastily opened it just in time to let the refugees free, and they surged out onto the open road.

“NO!” Evette suddenly screamed, and just as she did, dozens of arrows flew forth from the forest to the east, striking the crowd in their flank. Their mother fell, an arrow lodged in her throat. The rest of the refugees panicked. Some turned and fled back into the village, only to be blocked by those still trying to get out, who were oblivious to the danger. Others decided to take their chances, and fled toward the woods to the west.



Alys broke free from Evette’s grip, and rushed back toward the village. Evette attempted to stop her, but the crowd suddenly got in her way. She was pushed left and right despite her best attempts to dodge, and she could see neither her mother nor her siblings anymore. Then someone seized her by the waist and attempted to flee west, perhaps trying to save her by taking her with them.

There were archers to the west as well.

The man fell, struck in the chest. Evette tumbled from his grip, rolling through the dirt. She rose to her feet, and looked west where she could now see the concealed archers. Then looked east, where the crowd still struggled, and there was no sign of her siblings. Gulping, the girl turned and continued running north. Many arrows flew her way, but somehow, she was able to dodge each one.

She could see the miners emerging, shouting frantic cries as they raised their shovels and pickaxes, rushing to the aid of the village. Evette wanted to have hope, but then she looked back at the carnage outside the gate, and the smoke beyond the wall, and she knew they would fail. Instead of seeking safety among her number, she broke off to the west - she had made it past the line of archers.

And just like that, Evette the Deft disappeared into the forest.



“Alys!” Karn shouted, seeing his younger sister flee toward the village. In that moment Brundt broke free from his own grip, and the younger boy crouched next to their wounded mother, still holding her hand. Tears formed in Karn’s eyes, but as more and more villagers fell to the arrows, he knew they could not stay. He grabbed his brother’s shoulder.

“Brun… we have to go…” Karn whispered.

No response.

“We have to go now, Brun!” Karn shouted, finding his voice.

Still nothing.

Karn tugged harder on Brundt’s shoulder, only to be shrugged off. Then, an arrow almost found its mark, grazing his arm. He could not stay.

He glanced back to the village. The crowd had thinned out significantly. He could make it… search for Alys, then find a way out. He hoped. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to his brother, before fleeing back through the gate.



When Alys’s mother had died, something had felt… off.

There was an odd sensation around her heart, and one of her eyes began to water. She could not explain it. She had not been injured, and as far as she knew, she was not sick. Then she heard the screams as more villagers died, and a new sensation appeared, accompanied by an urge to get out of there. So she gave in, shaking free of Evette’s grip and fleeing back into the village. She heard Karn call her name, and felt a new desire - to go back - but she ignored this one. All these conflicting feelings…

That was what they were. Feelings. The things other people experienced, but never her. Why was she suddenly experiencing them now?

Then the village’s main square came within sight…



“Taking too long…” Dalkar grunted as he and Konrad circled one another.

Konrad attempted a lunge, but Dalkar batted the blade aside, and swung out with his own weapon. Konrad narrowly avoided having his guts spilled as he leapt backward. Dalkar followed up with another swing, which Konrad dodged, before lashing out with his sword to score a shallow cut across the raid leader’s shoulder.

Dalkar staggered, and Konrad brought his blade back for another lunge, when suddenly…

“Father!”

It was Alys. Instinctively, Konrad’s head turned, and that was all Dalkar needed. The flat of Dalkar’s axe collided with Konrad’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Then the bandit leader raised it into the air and swung it down, striking Konrad between shoulder and neck.

Konrad, once a lowly coppersmith, later the Avatar of Cadien, and now a Chieftain, looked at his killer in astonishment. Then blood began to gurgle from his mouth. Dalkar gripped the axe more tightly, then gave Konrad a savage kick in the chest, ripping the axe out in the process. Konrad fell backward, his blood spilling out onto the dirt. The village militia who watched the fight gasped, broke, and ran.

Dalkar laughed.

“FATHER!” Alys shrieked.



Although Alys had not felt any emotion ever since Mekellos placed the binding on her, that did not mean the emotions were not there, buried under the surface. She had loved her family and feared death, even if she had never felt either of those things. And although the binding was strong, it was not foolproof, for Mekellos had never predicted such traumatic circumstances. Her mother’s death had been the first crack. Her father’s death was the last.

She screamed. Like a dam, the binding broke. All those years of suppressed emotion suddenly surged to the surface. And with those emotions came power.

The fire had consumed much of the village huts, and now, it turned on those who ignited it. They latched onto the raiders in the village streets like tendrils, ignited their furs and leathers, and sending them into fits of agony. It did not stop there, for the village’s inhabitants suffered the fiery wrath too, burning alive in their hiding places.

The hooded man, the same mage who had broken down the gate in the first place, rushed to his chieftain’s side. Calling upon his mastery over mana, he formed a barrier around him and his chieftain, shielding them both from the attack. Meanwhile, Alys continued to scream, and the warriors of the Kolaris Tribe continued to burn.

Karn had witnessed both his father’s death and his sister’s outburst with wide eyes, and could only stare in stunned silence. Finally, the boy composed himself. “Alys!” he called out, taking a step forward… only for a tendril of flame to lash at from a nearby building, setting his clothes alight. Karn screamed, ran, tripped, and fell into a nearby trough of water.

Eventually, the inferno ended.

The mage collapsed, gasping for breath, and Dalkar placed a concerned hand on his shoulder. Alys breathed heavily, in shock at what she had just done, but still in a state of deep confusion as new emotions - fear, despair, hatred - surged through her. The young girl looked at her father’s killer, whose protector was exhausted and spent, and in one final burst of rage attempted to finish him off. But no power came. Her arcane strength was spent.

So instead, a more practical emotion took hold. She turned and ran down a scorched alleyway.



And while all this had happened, Brundt had remained by his mother’s side, even after the life passed from her eyes. Even when he was the only living person still on the road. The miners, who had made a desperate charge to save the village, had either died or fled.

The archers emerged from the woods, and slowly surrounded him, but not with the intent to kill - they stared in awe at the destruction behind him. They remained like that for some time, not speaking a word or even appearing to notice the distraught boy, who in turn did not appear to notice them.

Finally, the flames died down, and Dalkar stepped out of the village, the mage leaning on him for support. “What… what happened…?” one of the archers asked in a fearful tone.

The mage coughed. “We have offended Evandra,” he whispered. “Quickly, we must give her a sacrifice. To make it right.”

Their eyes settled on Brundt. A few moments passed, then one of them seized the initiative and stepped forward to place their hands upon the boy.

That was the moment Brundt finally moved.

Rising to his feet, the child swung his fist up into the archer’s gut, doubling the larger man over. Two more archers came to grab him, only for Brundt to fend them off. Then more came, until finally Brundt was overpowered. Three different men carried him toward the village, and began shoving him toward a flame on one of the burning buildings.

He did his best to resist, but even with his divine strength, he was but a child, and there were too many. His face inched closer and closer to the flame, which began to sear and burn his cheek. Ironically, the boy began praying to the very goddess they intended to sacrifice him to, begging for mercy.

“Evandra, please accept our offering and forgive us for whatever offense we may have caused you,” the mage prayed behind them, as Brundt began to scream. The men pushing him smiled. To them, this was more an act of cruelty than piety. With a final push, Brundt fell into the fire…

Or at least he should’ve. Before he could hit the ground, the fires parted as if avoiding him. “What…?” The mage let the words out in surprise. The fires circled around Brundt and joined together in front of the men who had pushed him, making them back off in panic. The fire grew unnaturally into a large pillar and the men shielded their faces from the heat and the brightness. When they looked back the pillar had disappeared, in its place was left the shape of a woman the colour of fire. Her face was devoid of any features save a pair of white slits where the eyes should be, and they narrowed upon seeing the raiders.

“Evandra…” Dalkar whispered the name then he and the mage fell to their knees. The other men soon followed. “Goddess Evandra, forgive us for angering you! Please accept the boy as a sacrifice!”

“And why would I accept it? Of all the things you’ve done today, hurting this boy was by far the greatest afront to me. For he’s a child of Cadien, your progenitor.” Her voice boomed, but did not deafen.

Dalkar and the mage brought their heads to the ground. “We did not know, Goddess! Please forgive us!”

“I will pardon you lot this once out of your ignorance. But should you, or any of your men, lay a finger with malicious intent on any of His children…” She raised a finger towards Dalkar. “You. Will. Die.”

“Thank you… For showing mercy, Goddess…”

“Now leave this place. You already lost the Sun’s favor, you lot ill need make yet another God angry.” With those final words Evandra’s shade dissipated along with the fire that made it.

Then there was a silence, broken only by Brundt’s weak childlike sobbing and the collapse of the village’s few remainingh huts. No one dared move or say anything. Then, slowly, they began to filter out of the ruins, leaving the boy behind.

Clutching his ruined face, Brundt continued to weep. He began dragging himself along the ground, toward the gate. When he reached the corpse of his mother, he embraced her, lying in a pool of her dried blood. He wept some more. Then, slowly, he rose to his feet, and began to aimlessly stumble off in a random direction.



Back in the village, Karn’s eyes fluttered open. But he couldn’t breathe, for the smoke had been too thick. Taking to his feet, he began stumbling toward where he believed the gate should be, rasping and hacking all the way. When he finally made it free of the smoke, he saw Brundt stumbling away. He attempted to call out, but the lack of oxygen finally overtook him, and he instead collapsed onto the dirt.









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Genesis





Knowing full well Genesis had her own realm, but hesitant to leave her there by herself, Oraelia took her back to her own. Even if Genesis was Divine in nature, she still acted like she was a child, and by all accounts, she was a child. Children needed many things, but Genesis was a special case and did not require what mortals did. Thus the only thing Oraelia could give her, was herself. She had realized, unless there was some other god with a better claim then herself, that she was one of the only ones that could raise Genesis. Gibbou was a close second, but Oraelia couldn’t shake the feeling that her sister was hiding something from her. Not to mention that her confidence was still meager, and how could one give love to another, if they hardly loved themself? She hoped she was wrong, so very wrong, but for now, it had to be this way.

Oraelia took one last look at Antiquity, and then entered her realm, Genesis in hand. It was the same as before, an endless Prairie of golden grass and flowers. She pursed her lips, and scrunched her nose as she looked at it all. Beautiful yes, but for the purposes of creating an avatar, and even raising Genesis, she needed something else. A home within her home. She raised her free hand, and with a flick of her wrist, the scenery changed to that of a wide large clearing in the middle of a forest.

”Ooo...”

The clearing sprouted several cobble paths, erupting on the sides of them with flowers and other plant growths, overgrowing in several places. The cobble pathways eventually all met a head, singularly leading up to a large wooden cabin that materialized before their eyes. It wasn’t large or grand in any way, but had a modest feel to it with a large wrap around porch.

Oraelia then turned to Genesis and knelt down. She smiled warmly. ”Would you like to live with me?” she asked,

It took a tilt of her head and a few seconds of thought, but eventually Genesis gasped and hugged Oraelia, hopping while she did so and breathing extremely fast. ”Genesis stays with Oraelia! Yay! Lots of playtime with her, and baths and hugs and kisses!” She repeated excitedly, nuzzling her small delicate face against Oraelia’s.

Oraelia could hardly contain her smile, radiating an intense glow as she gave affection to Genesis. ”Good! I’m so happy Genesis.” she said, giving her a smothering hug. She then pulled away, grabbing the small girl by her arms gently. ”Okay, now listen, I have a job for you okay? I need you to… To go find the prettiest flowers you can, so we can put them in a… Pot! And then we’ll put the pot inside, alright? So we can always have color with us!” she said, overly enthusiastic. ”Can you do that for me? Pwetty pwease?”

Genesis giggled and playfully caressed Oraelia’s face, ”Uh-huh! Genesis will bring all the more pretty flowies for Oraelia!”

Oraelia quickly planted a kiss on her cheek and giggled before saying, ”Wonderful my love, now go find me some flowers.” she said, with Genesis running off into the forest with a chuckle the second Oraelia set her down. Oraelia watched her go, shouting out after her, ”And be safe!” she said with a wave, knowing the only thing that could hurt Genesis, would be herself. Which was probably not going to happen, right?

With a sigh, Oraelia fell back into the grass and watched the moving clouds. She had a lot on her mind. This new reality she found herself in, Gibbou, Lucia, Genesis, prayers from mortals, Neiya, and on and on. She felt overwhelmed. There was so much to do. She took a deep breath, and relaxed. First things first, it was time to open herself to Galbar. It couldn’t be too hard, rig-

“Please mother Oraelia, please, don’t let her die.”

Oraelia shot up. The voice had been so sudden, and she saw it. A young boy, his sister dying next to him from playing gone wrong. A tear fell down the Goddess’s face.

”Thank you for rising, Bright One. Give us strength when the trolls come again. Please. I don’t know how much longer we can last.”

An old man spoke, his village in ruins and his people taken or killed… or worse. Oraelia’s heart began to beat faster as more voices came, louder.

“Why don’t you care! All we’ve ever done is worship you! And ye cannot even protect us!” Said a man in the far north, beset by trolls and other monsters.

“Bright One, may you watch us in this night. May they not come to take my family. This I ask of you.” Said a woman in a village, fearing for her life from other humans wishing to take them.

“O sunmother, why do you forsake us? What did we do wrong? Why are you silent?” Came the voice of a young girl deep within the heart of her Prairie.

“I hate you Bright One! You let them come and eat us in the night!” Screamed a child, angry at Trolls.

“Why is your sun so hot, so cruel? When do you keep the rain from us?” Asked a desert dwelling Alminaki.
“Another beautiful day, praise be to you, sun!” Exclaimed an older looking Genesis.

“Give me the power to kill them! I beg of you mother. They took everything from me!” Wailed a broken woman.

Oraelia squeezed her eyes shut as more and more prayers came. She held her head and leaned forward in between her knees. She stopped breathing as panic and shock overtook her.

Negative, positive, angry, happy, on and on. Every range of emotion, from every mortal under the sun. They hated her, they loved her, they wished she would do more, they wished she would help them. From the monsters in the night, from the trolls and flesh eaters, to the slavers and the murderers. They broke her heart a thousand times and they healed it again and again. What had she done? What had she let happen? There was so much death and loss on her hands and she had done nothing to safeguard the day, like she was supposed to. Her promise with Gibbou, she had failed. But those Trolls, creatures of the night, eaters of flesh. She had seen how the humans despised them and she began to have her doubts as more and more prayers came for her sunlight to destroy them. Did Gibbou… Did she create them?

Suddenly, Oraelia felt the familiar softness and warmth that was Genesis’ small hand trying to get a hold of hers, and slowly the sounds of the prayers grew further away and those of Genesis humming quietly came to the forefront. ”Ah… Choo!”

She snapped her tearful eyes open, gripping the small girl’s hand tightly. She breathed again, quick and fast as she took Genesis into a hug. She attempted to stop crying, but the tears flowed. She needed someone, anyone after what she just witnessed. ”G-Genesis- Did you b-bring back flowers?” she asked in a shaky voice. Genesis returned the hug as best as she could.

”Yea… Is Oraelia ok? Don’t cry please. If Oraelia is sad, then… Then Genesis will show her what she does when she’s sad!!”

Oraelia sniffled, wiping the tears away from her face. ”And what does Genesis do when she’s sad?” she asked.

”Need a small river and mud. Very important, the two. Genesis will go to the mud and put her feet in it, you see. Like a tree! It feels very nice and soothing. And Genesis not get thirsty.” Genesis pursed her lips and then buried her nose in the mass of undulating light that she could only imagine was Oraelia’s hair.

Oraelia cracked a small smile and took a deep breath. ”That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” came her quiet voice. But there was no more time for idleness, not now anyway. Galbar needed her more than ever before. A part of her. It seemed the only thing that protected life during the day, was her sun and even that did a poor job. No, she needed something more, something that could ease the tide of these misfortunes. She would help from her realm of course, but this required a more direct approach and she had just the idea in the form of an avatar.

She shuffled around, and picked up Genesis who held a bouquet of flowers mixed with blades of grass in her hand. Oraelia smiled as she situated the girl. ”Do you remember what Illyd and Gibbou said about avatars? Let’s make them, then we can go find a stream and play in the mud alright?”

Genesis nodded as soon as she pulled away from the hug, ”Okay. How are avatars made?”

Oraelia gave a slight frown. ”I think we take a small part of ourselves, like a piece of hair, or in your case a leaf, and then we make it grow with our power. Reach deep down inside Genesis, think about what you want, visualize it. Then, will it to be.” she encouraged, placing her back on the ground.

”Mmmm..” Genesis hummed in thought, then reached up and plucked a single leaf off her head, making herself hiss, then take in a deep breath. ”... owie.”

But the pain did not stop Genesis, for she plopped the leaf down in front of her, then sat on her knees and closed her eyes, both palms pointed toward the leaf.

She thought hard. She overworked her imagination to the point where her leaves were twitching uncontrollably, and then she exhaled. Just like that, the single leaf began to be encased in what looked like a new kind of crystal--Golden in colour, and not completely solid. It grew thick, as if it was a shield keeping the leaf safe and then around the crystal, more things began to materialize.

A bone structure, followed by vital organs, a nervous system, muscles… skin… Everything that made up Genesis’ body was replicated in the new, forming entity, but it was bigger. More of a grown up person than a child.

The new avatar, which at some point had begun to float as it formed, then dropped to the floor, her head falling conveniently on Genesis’ lap, who opened one eye first, then the other and finally let out a loud squeal of excitement.

The features were soft and delicate, with a slender body frame and graceful curves… But while she resembles Genesis, her colours were all different. Her skin for example was white, with several light pink accents near the joints, and her leaves were much longer but also slimmer, and a very pale pink in colour. And her eyes, when they fluttered open, revealed themselves to be an icy blue.

Genesis couldn’t help herself, she excitedly pet her avatar’s head as she bounced a little in place. She looked up at Oraelia and was about to speak when the avatar suddenly huffed, swatted Genesis’ hands away, and stood up, causing the little girl to flinch and pull away with a bit of a heartbroken expression on her face. ”Ow!! Why-”

”Geez! I just woke up and you’re already messing my leaves up, Genny. C’mon kid, I have an image to uphold!”

At this Genesis turned to Oraelia, eyes watering. ”B… B-But Genesis asked for a brotheeeer…!” She began, sniffling. Her avatar responded by sniffling quietly as well.

”H-Hey…! I didn’t ask to be a girl, y-y’know. You made me this way, you...” She hissed some air out through her tightly closed jaw, and then turned around and began to presumably wipe tears off her face.

There was a look of surprise upon Oraelia’s face, before she put a reassuring hand upon Genesis’ shoulder. She looked upon the new being, this new avatar of Genesis inquisitively. Something irked her about how it had treated Genesis, who did something many would consider innocent in nature.

”Why did you swat her hand away? You couldn’t have just asked for her to stop?” she asked, her tone neutral.

Genesis’ Avatar sniffled one last time and turned around as if nothing had happened, but quickly blushed a light shade of pink and rubbed her hands together nervously, shrinking her posture. ”U-Um,” She began, and looked away, ”I just got made so… I’m kind of sensitive and I’m not used to being touched, I guess...” The Avatar explained, then knelt in front of Genesis and put her hand on her childish creator’s head, rubbing through the leaves gently. ”Uh, sorry Genny. I guess I should be thankful I even exist, even if you don’t like me as I am...”

Genesis wiped her tears and looked up into the icy eyes of her avatar, then shook her head, voice coming out squeaky and shaky, ”N-no, Genesis likes you... Exodus is very pretty... like Oraelia. G-Genesis likes you, but… But she wanted a big brother. To play with.”

Exodus sighed awkwardly and then forced on a smile just for Genesis, whose eyes sparkled. ”Well, uh, sisters can play too, right? You don’t need a brother to have a good time, Genny.”

At this Genesis turned to look at Oraelia and asked, ”I-Is that true?”

Oraelia nodded. ”I have Gibbou, do I not? She’s my sister and we play all the time.” she agreed. She then looked at the avatar. ”Welcome to life, Exodus.” she said, giving her a reassuring smile.

Exodus rubbed her neck sheepishly and stood up, then began work on opening a portal to Galbar. As she did that, she spoke one last time to Genesis, ”See you around Genny. Talk to me whenever you want, alright? I’m your big sis after all.” She said, looking at the girl over her shoulder and winking at her, an expression that Genesis tried to imitate with varying rates of success. ”Oh, and those flowers you have in your hand, you’ll want to plant them where there’s plenty of sun, and give their roots ample space. Who knows? They might grow all the way to the sky!”

With that, the portal finally opened, but as Exodus prepared to step through, Genesis perked up. ”G-Genesis wants-”

Exodus shot her a look, and Genesis shrunk a little and rephrased, ”Gen… Genny? I. I. I… Want to play with Exodus!”

Exodus chuckled and stepped through, the portal closing behind her. After a moment, Genesis looked at Oraelia and tilted her head. ”I? Why does Genesis have to say I instead of Genesis?”

Oraelia blinked as she looked down at Genesis. ”Well… It’s your sense of self? When you say your name, referring to yourself, but already speaking- uh…” she paused, how did one explain this? ”You don’t have to say your name when talking about yourself honey. I know who you are, you know who you are. I, as in me, as in Oraelia, you see. So ‘I’ can say I, instead of my name. It means the same thing, but just means… You’re learning and growing and becoming… A big girl!” she said enthusiastically, tickling Genesis on her sides. Immediately the girl began giggling and trying to squirm away to no avail. Eventually the giggling became full blown laughter and tears of mirth overflowed from Genesis’ eyes.

”Oooah! N-No more… No more!!” She repeated, laughing even harder.

Oraelia eventually stopped and stood back up with a gleeful look in her eyes. ”Alright, alright. You did a good job Genesis, creating your avatar. I’m sure she’ll do good work upon Galbar. Now…” she said, cracking her knuckles. ”It’s time for me to make one. Stand behind me, dear.” It took Genesis a while to recover but when she did, she did as asked and quietly positioned herself behind Oraelia, watching on with curiosity clear in the way her leaves twitched.

Oraelia raised both her hands up into the air, and concentrated in the clearing before her. Then, she took a deep breath and breathed out slowly, as she did, a ray of yellow sunlight touched down from the heavens of her realm. It landed in the clearing, illuminating the land in vibrant rays of extremely bright light. This light seemed to be a wave, flowing and receding, pulsing in silence. From this beam of light there came a figure. Or the beam of light became the figure, for as it emerged the beam dissipated in a flash, but Oraelia was unphased by this, for light was kin to her and she saw what it had become.

Standing three times as tall as she, marched forth a giant of ethereal gold, solar flames racing across its body. It was see through, but tangible all the same and illuminating. It had no discernible features other than that of a strong man’s build and two glowing eyes of gold upon his face. He wore a halo of pure white, sat above his head like a crown. The halo itself was circular, running in a singular band, unmoving from its place. His long strides were with purpose, coming to a stop before Oraelia rigidly, like a statue, before moving his head to gaze down upon her. There was a silence between the two, as Oraelia took him in.

She nodded approvingly and folded her arms. ”You are my son and I name you, Solus. Welcome to life, Solus!” she said, waiting for the giant to respond, but she only felt a vague sense of knowing from his eyes. ”You know what to do, don’t you?” she asked softly. To this, Solus gave a slow nod, and held it, as if to show respect. Oraelia gave a sad smile in return. ”Go on Solus, I won’t keep you here any longer. You know your task, and it is a daunting one my son. But you will not be alone in doing it.”

Solus lifted his head and turned his head right as he lifted an arm to match his gaze. A portal materialized, a tear in reality and Oraelia could see but a glimpse of her home, and taste the air and feel the breeze. Solus dropped his hand, and turned his body before beginning to walk through. ”Know that you are loved, Solus.” she whispered, as the portal closed behind him.

Sometime during the whole show, Genesis had hugged Oraelia’s leg and just now squeezed a bit. ”Oraelia made a fire and light ghost. Why?”

”Well… I made a promise a long time ago. To protect the world Genesis. It’s about time I honored that.” she said, looking down at Genesis with a smile.




The small girl lay dying. Her brother, beside himself lay cradling her head from where she had fallen on that stupid rock. It was a simple push, he hadn’t meant it. Now he prayed to any god that might listen, to save his sister’s life. Her breathing was becoming shallower, and he was too afraid to run and get help. He couldn’t leave her. Not like this. Not here.

There came a strange noise, two footsteps, one after the other. They shook the ground and his stomach sank. Troll. There was a troll behind him. He couldn’t let it take Ifti! He placed his sister’s head down gently, and then spun around, fists primed to go.

It wasn’t a troll he saw, but an equally terrifying thing. So tall, and it hurt his eyes to look at. He shielded his face, falling backwards next to his sister with a scream as it came closer. He shielded Ifti with his body, but a blow never came, and he was never taken, but the giant seemed to stop, and he felt a warmth flow around him, before it walked off, footsteps becoming distant.

When he at last felt safe, he opened his eyes and saw Ifti staring up at him with a grin.

“Ifti! Y-You’re okay!” he cried out, his eyes watering.

“Ya! Course I am! Now get of’ me, you witch’s wart!”

The boy recoiled slightly, a grin of his own erupted across his face. He got off her, and helped her up, wiping his tears away.

“Come on Ifti! I’ll race you home!” he exclaimed. Ifti wasted no time in bolting off, but the boy paused, looking back to see where the giant had gone, but it was nowhere to be seen.





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LokiLeo789 The Old Man

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Qala sat alone in the window seat of her room. She looked out the square outlet and tried to enjoy the green of the hill that descended towards the village. The pillows packed underneath her drew some of the tension from her back, and though midmorning was still hours away, the throbbing in her ankles was rivalled only by the thunderstorm pushing against her temples. In all truth, she could have used a cup of buna.

That thought brought her back to her surroundings. The room was built into the furthest end of her manse's east wing. Beyond it, the lush knolls of the Sunland Valley rolled all the way to the bloated Solari River, where morning mist drifted over the water, screening a yellow sunrise. Two of her patrolling war canoes ghosted through the mist.

Someone threw the door open. No knock, just the slam of wood against the wall. Only one person in the entire manse never knocked.

"Upset?" Qala asked, not yet ready to look away from her favourite view.

Her mother muttered either a greeting or a curse, her cane tapping over the scuffle of her calloused feet. "We had to slaughter three heifers just to feed the Inner Plainers tonight." She settled into a groaning chair and clicked her tongue. "We're breaking our wrists kneading dough for potbread, but it's the easiest way to feed them all."

"Potbread? Ade will love that."

Ma grunted, which generally meant approval. "He's getting fat and strong, your boy, but never mind him. Why aren't you helping in the kitchens?"

"I was attending to the Plainer Prince."

"That lazy hothead? Sello's girl keeps serving his uncles our best stock, you know?"

"By my instruction."

"By your-- Qala! Liffa spilt half an urn of my winter ale."

"Ma, please."

"In any case, you should have let Dayo entertain the boy," her mother said. "He would have taken the Prince on a grounds tour that would have left him mushy-footed and humble." By the sounds of her rummaging, Ma was digging around for the bitter melon she kept in her apron. "What did the Prince have to say anyway?"

"He wants war."

Ma snorted. "Then he'll get it; to seek is to find. Wait now, war over what?"

To seek is to find. A Sunland parable Qala had known for double the Prince’s years, and her mother triple.

"He proposed on the doorstep."

The rummaging stopped. "Qala." A deep laugh. "He proposed to you? That skinny thing! Can't he see the lines on your face or that silver wire creeping into your hair?"

Qala turned to face her mother. "I refused."

"Naturally."

"And his response will be to side with Ndlovu and help him cross the Solari."

The deep lines in Ma's face softened. Sunlight poured in from the giant window, setting the yellowed whites of her eyes aglow as she smoothed the ochre paint on her face. Her gold bangles jingled as she pushed a finger under her headscarf to give her scalp a scratch.

"That bodes ill for Ndlovu," Ma said.

"War bodes ill for all of us. When two leons fight in the field, the grass suffers."

"Of course it does. One leon has an army a thousand strong, the other inherited the yolk of Qaram."

"It's not a joking matter, Ma."

"Who's joking?" Ma slipped a ball of bitter melon into her mouth. "Qala, you are descended from the first Sunspear, the Void-Whisperer of Wassa. Why would you ever fear Ndlovu?"

Qala rubbed her face. "I don't. I mean I do but... Ma, I've spent twenty years cultivating peace here. I've made this land rich with the finest crops and orchids and groves the Yellow Sea has ever seen. Our neighbours love us because we feed them and pay well in trade. A war, even one we can win, is the end of my life's work."

"You're a child of the Sunlands, not the Hundred Hills." Ma absently crushed a fly on the armrest and went back to looking for more bitter melon. "War is your life."

"Even in peace?"

"Ha! What's that?"

Qala rarely coveted things, but she envied her mother's conviction then. "So what do we do about the Prince?"

"Get his uncles to smack him around a little. They're already drunk. Soft-footed brat, why didn't he ask to marry Funke instead?"

"That would have made more sense, they're of an age. I still would have refused."

"No doubt, but– ahhh." Ma sunk back into her chair and balanced a ball of bittermelon on her swollen knuckle. "Sly bastard."

"Out with it."

"It seems, mmm--" Ma licked a crumb of bittermelon off her knuckle "--that our young Prince has no interest in marriage."

"Because asking after my hand and not my daughter's would more likely garner a rejection?"

"Exactly. What does that tell you?"

"That he's hotheaded and an imbecile."

"Just about."

"You're saying he's trying to provoke me to conflict?"

"The princling? No. He's too young to want anything as tedious as war. Young men can't even wrap their minds around what dangles between their legs."

"He was sent to start it, then, but someone else stands to gain."

"Naturally."

Qala sighed. "The question is who, then. Who would want war with us?"

"My child, you said it yourself -- this land is rich, and you're a widowed pacifist." Ma flicked the dead fly off her chair. "The answer is everyone."


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Legion02

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The Servants

The village of chief Vraendol was happy. The harvest was rich and wolves ceased to attack their livestock. Rather begrudgingly the chief and his hunters refrained from killing any more deer. None of them wanted to risk the wrath an Oathbreaker brought. Yet despite the good times, chief Vraendol sat hunched over his table. Deeply sunken in his own thoughts. He couldn’t let things turn out the same way next year. Deer would be hunted, as many as he deemed necessary. Wolves would come to kill his livestock again. Then that bloody druid or another would come and undermine his authority. Vraendol wouldn’t care so much if the druid did, if only he stayed the winter. Too much food gave people safety and certainty. A rare thing amid a snow storm. Meat gave one the strength to push on. Instead now he had to survive on bloody berries and bread. The gal that druid had, to tell his hunters to pick up a plow or basket instead of a spear or a bow.

“You asked for me?” Someone said as they entered the great hall.

Chief Vraendol looked up. The first thing he noticed were the eyes. “Yes, rainbow-eyes. I need some of your…insight. Sit down.” He said. The chief had never been particularly fond of magic. Druids or these Servants alike. But the Servants that passed through his village generally did not make oaths in his name. As the newly entered man sat down near the fire, Vraendol handed him a cup with a crude version of mead and sat down next to him before the fire. “You know what happened here? With the druid?”

The man nodded. “He made a pact with the wolves. I’ve heard druids do it before.” The man named Fallenor said. There were rumors amongst the siblings down south from here that druids were becoming an ever growing group of meddlers in villages. For a long time sorcerers held a monopoly on magic. Yet these days the druids rose to ever greater prominence amongst the normal people. While leaders and warriors began to value their sorcerers much more. That alone wouldn’t bother Fallenor. It was only that every time he had talked to a druid, he couldn’t help but smell an ugly stench on him. Every time they talked, the words rang like lies. Even if they were the basest truths. His brothers and sisters stretched across the human world seemingly agreed. None who met a druid liked them.

“That he did, and now I’m here telling you that that is a problem.” Vraendol said. “I’ve got scores of trained hunters, killers really, sitting at home seething over the act. Next year will be no different, and then that bloody druid will come back and undermine me some more.” Vraendol’s voice was that of a man slighted. Double-crossed. Fallenor wanted to ask if he had send for the druid. Perhaps to help make the wolves stay away. “Do you know the fishers village to the east of here?”

“I do.” Fallenor said, as he took a sip of the mead. “It’s small, but cozy. Unlike here they’ve got a steady supply of fish and don’t fear the wolves as much.”

“Yeah, and they utterly despise us. That is perhaps my fault for raiding them a few summers passed. Now tell me, I know your people talk to each other with your minds.” He said as he pointed at Fallenor’s forehead. “Is there one of yours in that village?”

“No.” Fallenor could answer that question with full certainty. Amongst the humans, Servants had been talking for millennia now. It was a vast spanning web that few humans, even if their tribe were rivals, rejected these days. If he never heard a Servant from that village speak, there was most certainly not one there.

“Good!” Vraendol exclaimed. “Excellent! You’ve been a great service to me Fallenor. You may go.” The chief said as he rose up and walked towards a few of his own warriors standing guard.

But Fallenor did not leave. Instead he turned to the chief: “Why do you need to know?”

It took Vraendol by surprise. “Its none of your business.” He said curtly. “Get out of my hall.”

“You’re going to attack the neighboring tribe again, aren’t you?” Fallenor said as he walked closer to the chief.

Vraendol dashed towards the Servant with a knife in his hand. Before Fallenor knew it, a blade was touching the side of his chest. “Don’t say that out loud!” The chief snarled. “Do you want everyone to know!? Damn you Fallenor. It’s supposed to be a secret.”

“I swear I will not tell anyone who isn’t supposed to know.” That also meant his own brothers and sisters. Fallenor was well aware of what such an oath meant. Even though he said it so casually.

So was Vraendol. Who pulled the blade away and turned Fallenor away from the entrance of the hall. “You’re too smart for your own good, Fallenor. Yes, I’m going to attack the village next to us. Damn it I’m going to conquer it. We may not need those fishes this year or next year. But we will in due time and when that time comes I know in my heart we won't see Kaer Mirh then. The druid, curse his gods damned name, did give us more than enough food to last the winter, while my hunters aren’t even occupied with hunting deer or protect the livestock from wolves. The opportunity is now and it may never come again.”

“You wanted to know if they had a trained sorcerer.” Fallenor realized out loud.

Vraendol shot him a nasty look, but eventually nodded. “You bloody sorcerers are a dangerous sort. I’ve seen you flick fire and ice before Fallenor. I wouldn’t want to fight that. But now that I don’t, my troops can prepare.”

“I will join you.” Fallenor said suddenly.

It took Vraendol by surprise. “This isn’t something to joke about, Fallenor. I need more from you than festival tricks.” But then he calmed down. Having a sorcerer, even one, amongst his ranks would give him certain victory. His warriors were almost equal to those of the village to the east. With the help of the hunters, they would have a fair shot to victory. With the help of a sorcerer. Well, victory was all but assured. “Very well then, Fallenor. You’ve already sworn yourself to secrecy. I’ll send for you when you’re supposed to leave the village and meet up within the forest. We don’t want to alert the fish village don’t we.” He summoned a big grin.

One Fallenor returned and then finally left. Gears began to spin within his mind. He would have to remain silent to his brothers and sisters for a year. Then he could tell them that he finally gained a favor from his chief.


“And that concludes the harvest, sire.” A robed, elderly man said as he handed the slate with the harvest count upon it to a slave. The king sat uneasy on his throne. His eyes were hollow and sunken back into his skull. He hadn’t slept well all summer. Now his worst fears were proven true. The harvest was not enough to feed all his people in winter. Children would die. Even a druid couldn’t revitalize the lands for long.

“Leave me.” He said with no real authority behind his voice. Famine had been threatening his rule for some time now. The elderly vizier bowed and left with his slaves holding the heavy slates. After agonizing minutes of silence that even unnerved the guards, the king got up and left the throne room.

The garden felt like an entirely different world than the one outside its walls. Here, all plants were green and flourishing. Like they didn’t share the curse the farmlands suffered. Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps the court-sorcerer really did know what he was doing to keep this plot of land green and healthy. The king kneeled before a grave. It was fresh and untouched by time or the weather. “I can’t go on like this.” He said to it. “I wish you were here. With me.”

Behind him the doors leading to his serene sanctuary suddenly slammed open. Rage flared up into the king as he shot up. His hand moved to the dagger he kept on his belt. “How dare you come here.” He yelled at the intruder. Before he realized it was Esamir. The court-sorcerer. “What do you want man. Can’t you see I was praying!?” He shouted. Though he loosened the grip on his dagger.

“My lord! I have found a way!” Esemir exclaimed as he carried a slate under his arm. He was clearly out of breath, yet still pushed on. Guards behind him were about to grab the court-sorcerer and escort him out. But a simple wave of the king told them to back off. “I have found a way.” He collapsed on his knees before his liege as he tried to catch his breath. The slate, luckily, did not fracture.

“Speak man!” The king was growing impatient.

“Do you know what an Fire Deer is, my lord?” Esemir asked as he managed to get up.

“It’s legendary. They say it’s a big burning stag roaming the lands. Damn it, Esemir. Those things are just legends. Besides, how would we even get such a thing here? We are far away from the western lands.” The king said.

“We don’t need to. Its heart, my lord. If we get its heart, we may bring it back here. I can perform a ceremony with. Make it a sacrifice and fuel the magic. I can make the farm land as rich as your garden!” Esemir said. In the depth of his heart he was grateful for his sister who had seen the fire deer from a temple in the sun-soaked lands to his west. Finally the land could be saved. But that wasn’t the only reason he wanted to go west. There were talks about a fabled tutor there.

“Gods above man. Are you sure? Are you sure it can be done?” The king asked, grabbing Esemir by his arms. Esemir nodded, and the king pushed him aside to bark orders at his soldiers: “Get me the royal guard! Prepare for an expedition. We are going to save this land.”


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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Brundt




Brundt did not know how long he had been walking.

He continued his aimless stumbling through the forest, almost oblivious to his surroundings. Occasionally he would trip over a root or a plant, but he would only get back up and keep moving. His knees were scraped, and his clothes were now stained with dirt as well as soot. He felt numb, and all he could think to do was keep walking, ignoring the soreness in his feet and the agonizing pain in his face.

In the near distance came the low chatter of two voices, intermittently interrupted by laughter. The voices got louder, and soon enough, a pair of white-robed shadows wielding long branches approach further down the path. Then there was silence, no doubt as the shadows noticed Brundt. They hurried over to him, the light revealing more and more features of their forms, particularly their human faces, one old, graying man and one younger, though still not particularly young, woman. “By the gods,” voiced the man and the two slowed their approach as they neared him. “... My son, what happened to you?”

He stopped, then stared at the two strangers blankly. Fresh tears began to well up in his eyes, and he began to back away.

Invitingly, the man stretched out a hand, while the woman started rummaging through her satchel, pulling out small pots and containers labeled with odd glyphs and drawings of leaves. The man beckoned warmly and said, “You don’t need to be afraid, my son. We mean you no harm.”

He stopped backing away when his back hit a tree, and he began to process the stranger’s words. Then he slumped down into a sitting position, holding his knees against his chest.

The man offered him a perfectly reassuring smile and allowed himself to shuffle in a little closer, his partner offered him the pots of what seemed to be ointments, as well as some bandages fashioned from torn linen shirts. The man took one of the bandages and rubbed it thoroughly in some of the ointment. “We see you’ve gotten hurt. Let’s try to see that it doesn’t hurt so badly, hmm? Kaer Anni, if you would.” The woman nodded with a weak smile and took her stick, peering towards the sky and mouthing some words. The man looked back at Brundt. “This won’t hurt at all, my son. It’ll just be like falling asleep.” With that, a wave of sleepiness washed through Brundt’s body, as though it was in the middle of the night and way past his bedtime. In the moments before he closed his eyes, he saw and to a degree felt the old man scrape at his cheek with ointment.

When Brundt woke up again, it was nightfall, and he was packed in a soft and somewhat moth-ridden bedroll. A few metres away flickered a campfire behind two seated shadows, one of them sucking on a pipe, the other stirring in a stomach-shaped “pot” suspended over the fire on a twig. He reached a hand up to feel the bandage on his face, wincing and letting out a barely audible whimper as he touched it.

The two by the fire turned around, the old man offering some dry, smokey coughs. “Oh, you’re awake. Kaer Anni, would you fill him a bowl, please?”

“Of course, Kaer Mirh,” replied the woman and took a wooden ladle and started filling a wooden bowl with what was likely a soup of sorts. The old man shuffled a little closer to the bedrolled boy, taking the bowl from Kaer Anni on the way and passed it onto Brundt along with a spoon.

“So, how are you feeling?”

Brundt made no move to eat the food in front of him. “Everyone is dead…” he whispered, his voice hoarse. He realized in that moment he was more thirsty than hungry.

The old man frowned sympathetically. Kaer Anni had also shuffled over, bringing with her a bowl for both her partner and herself each. She gave her bowl a gingerly sip. “Did your village get attacked?” she asked carefully. Kaer Mirh blew a slow-growing plume.

Memories of the slaughter flashed before the boy’s eyes, and he gave a barely perceptible nod.

The two nodded along somberly. “Nothing is worse than such needless, sudden loss,” consoled Kaer Mirh. “But for a child to see it… Terrible, just terrible.” He unsheathed a flint sickle from the rope about his waist and used its tip to scrape some ashes out of the pipe bowl. “The gods never wish for these sorts of things to happen, but not even they can keep an eye on all the misfortune that befalls our challenging lives sometimes.” Having scraped out the ashes, he strapped both the pipe and the sickle to his belt. “I will not tell you to forget what has happened, my son - our great lord of truth, Fìrinn, demands that we all live in accordance with our truths, after all.” He sighed. “However, do not allow yourself to be consumed by the horror that is the truth, either - seek solace for now in contact with others, solace in the love of the gods, in the beauty of nature.”

“G-gods?” Brundt whispered. “F-father said he was chosen by Cadien. But father is dead, and Evandra saved me…”

Kaer Mirh nodded, and Kaer Anni responded, “An honour to be chosen - and a curse to stand out. That you were saved by the flame is fortunate, for certain, though…” She eyed the bandage with a somber frown. “Her mark will stay with you forever, my son. As with your father, it may be an honour - and it may be a curse.”

“We cannot say for certain, however,” Kaer Mirh added. “While the past is set in stone, the future is written with the wind - the song of the world can offer the insights beyond mere mortal minds, and both sun and moon see the world from leagues above the surface; and yet, no matter how hard we try, the future remains the greatest mystery of all.” He smiled sorrowfully at Brundt. “Have you kinsmen in other villages? Anywhere you can stay?”

He thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Kaer Anni once more offered Brundt his bowl of broth. “Any relatives that might’ve gotten away?”

He recalled the massacre outside the gate, and shook his head.

Kaer Mirh and Kaer Anni exchanged looks. Kaer Anni shrugged and then Kaer Mirh said, “Alright. Have some broth to recover your strength, and then we’ll set off in the morning. You can stay with us until we reach the next village over.”

“Or however long you’d like,” the woman added.

Brundt’s gaze lowered to the bowl in his hands, and then he slowly spooned some of the liquid into his mouth. It was watery and only slightly flavoured by the bones it was made with - had it boiled for longer, it would’ve been tastier, most likely. However, it was liquid and rich in fats and protein - the ideal mixture for a swift recovery. Kaer Anni nodded.

“Good. Keep drinking that and get yourself some rest when you’re full. Tomorrow will be a long day and, unfortunately, Kaer Mirh here hasn’t recovered his favour with the Moon and the Mountain yet, so he can neither help with respite nor endurance.” The old man scratched his chin gingerly.

“Well, that hunter was also in dire need, I say…”

“Oh, sure, sure. You just make sure to keep praying and look out for shiny stones to offer, okay?”

“Don’t have to tell me, Kaer Anni,” mumbled the old man, and then rose to his feet and wandered into the woods. The woman turned to offer Brundt another perfect smile.

“It takes time and ritual for us to replenish our magic. We’re sorry we cannot do more for you.”

Brundt said nothing more, instead choosing to finish his broth and go back to sleep.




The next morning started as early as the sun came up, when Brundt was awoken by two whispers coming from the druids kneeling on the path where the sun shone the brightest, facing the sky. They intertwined one hand each with the other’s and held their free hand up with a flat palm. Both had their eyes closed, and their voices seemed almost eerie and two-toned, as though something else within them also spoke.

He sat up and watched, remaining silent as he attempted to hear what they were saying.

“... in your light that the plants grow, the beasts see and we live. Oraelia on high, we greet you a very fine morning and ask humbly that your sun will light our path until Gibbou calls for us to rest once more. We are forever faithful to you.”

With that, the druids prostrated themselves humbly once before getting up and dusting their robes off. “You were a little off on your spiritsong, Kaer Anni,” mumbled the old man. The woman’s eye twitched ever so slightly.

“W-well, it’s not -my- fault someone overslept so I didn’t have time to do my vocal exercises!”

“Excuses, excuses,” Kaer Mirh replied playfully. “Next time, just ignore me and go ahead with the exercises. You know me well enough by now that you should remember that I never miss morning prayers, and--... Oh! Good morning, my son.” Kaer Anni turned to follow his gaze and also put on a smile. “Good morning, my son,” she echoed. “Would you like some breakfast?”

He nodded. “Who is Gibbo?” he asked quietly.

“It’s ‘Gibbou’, my son. She is the moon high above us - the largest one, mind you; the purple one is, uh, is Cadien’s.” While Kaer Mirh talked, Kaer Anni pulled out some flatbread and dried meat from her satchel, which she offered to Brundt. “Gibbou is our guardian in the night, and she makes certain that the hunters in the dark always just so happen to look elsewhere than where we happen to be when they’re out hunting.”

The boy took a bite out of the dried meat, chewed quietly, and then swallowed. “Why didn’t the gods save my village?” he asked them.

The druids sat down on each side of Brundt, facing in the same direction as him. Kaer Anni took a bite of her own piece of bread and Kaer Mirh pulled out his pipe, patting a bowlfull of dried herbs into the bowl. “... Now that’s a question we hear quite often.” He stuck the mouthpiece in between his perfect teeth and patted his cloak down. Evidently not finding what he was looking for, he shuffled over to last night’s campfire and started digging in the coals and ashes until he found a still smouldering piece of wood. He pressed it as hard as he could against the herbs in the bowl, sucking through air as though it was a snorkel. After a much longer period than it should’ve taken, the herbs eventually started smouldering, too, and Kaer Mirh lobbed the piece of wood back into the campfire pit. Blowing a long plume of smoke, he replied softly. “See, my son - contrary to what some parts of this world believe, the gods aren’t almighty. Oh, they’re strong, sure, but they can’t do everything - not on their own, at least.” For a moment, the old man eyed the sky as though he feared lightning would strike even though there wasn’t a cloud in sight. “It’s likely they didn’t see your village in peril, or that they simply couldn’t look away from what they were doing - wherever they are…” The old man sighed and squeezed Brundt’s shoulder gently. “The gods are not to blame for the destruction of your village, my child, and finding someone to put the blame on can be a journey far more dangerous than the raid itself. Like we said yesterday - don’t forget it, but don’t let yourself be consumed by the memories, either. Make it a part of your truth, for it is already part of reality.” The sentence was punctuated by more smoke.

He nodded slowly. “Oh-okay,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. He finished eating the meat, and moved onto the bread. “Um… where are we going to go?”

“If we’re not mistaken, there’s a village not too far from your home - I’d say about a day or two on foot - which should have places to stay for all of us. Morganstead, I think it’s called. You’ve heard of it?”

He nodded.

“Good, then this oughta be a little easier for all of us,” Kaer Mirh said in relief. “Alright, eat up, you two, and we’ll be on our way soon enough.”

“Don’t hasten yourself,” Kaer Anni added with a grin aimed at Brundt. “Take the time you need. We’re in no rush.” Kaer Mirh pursed his lips skeptically, but shrugged and got to packing his things. Kaer Anni did the same.




Sure enough, roughly two days later - the pace being a little slower than the druids were used to - they arrived in Morganstead, a small hamlet consisting of seven mud huts with thatch roofs, surrounded by green, unripe fields of various grains, separated by drainage pits and wicker fences. Among the fields wandered the odd goat, sneaking a bite or two of the nutritious stalks. The villages were tending to their various tasks, and a few lit up upon seeing the trio entering the hamlet grounds. They were approached by a small crowd who recognised the white robes and immediately came to the druids to beg for medicine, healing, stronger grain, more fertile goats.

“All in due time, all in due time,” Kaer Mirh said calmingly as though he had been through this a thousand times. “Me and my kinswoman Kaer Anni will take care of your sick, your wounded and your expecting very soon. First, however, we come with grave news - and a gift.” Gently, Kaer Mirh guided Brundt up front. “Thyma to the south suffered a terrible raid a few days past. None were spared. To those of you who had kinsmen in the village - we offer our deepest condolences.” The crowd thickened and worry and fear spread outwards like wildfire. Kaer Mirh raised his hand for all to quiet down, and almost as if by magic, the villagers did. “That being said, one managed to make it away.” He patted Brundt on the shoulder. “We pray that in exchange for our aid with whatever you may need, you will take Brundt in as one of your own. No child should see what he had seen, and I pray you can help him move on.”

The village chieftain, a brown-haired man in his early thirties, stepped forward. “That is a fair enough deal,” he agreed. “But what of those who attacked Thyma? That village was ten times the size of our own. What if our village is next?”

“Me and my kinswoman here will journey to survey the village of Thyma. In the days after we leave, you will task one watchman with staring skywards. If we find that danger is heading your way, then the star of the North will flash a pinkish red for one whole night. That will be the signal for you to evacuate. If you see nothing for four days, then the roving bandits that attacked Thyma did not cross our path.”

“Very well,” the chieftain nodded. “We will find a place for the boy, in exchange for your services.”

Brundt, somewhat nervous at the prospect of being exchanged like that, looked nervously from the chieftain to the druids. Kaer Anni knelt down and patted him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, my son. You’ll feel right at home here. Go on.” She gently pushed at his back so he’d move forward. Brundt reluctantly complied.

The chieftain gave the boy a nod. “I think Beric and Greta have some space,” he looked to a middle-aged man with greying blond hair. “Is that so?”

“We have space, aye,” he nodded. “Could use an extra pair of hands on the farm. Once that wound is healed up, of course.”

“Good, good,” said the old man. “Now, who needed me to come check on a sick mother?” The druids were quickly pulled along to various parts of the hamlet to offer their services.






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The light of antiquity was nearly blinding to the little ancillary form that was also Klaarungraxus. As the small meat puppet hovered gently over the flagstone steps that led down to the center of the arena-like structure, all six eyes sucking down into the simulacra’s torso. One by one they popped back out, becoming accustomed to the light. Before Klaar was a wide-open arena, a coliseum of sorts that did little to express exactly where this was to the overmind back in Saxus.

The stink of divine presence was practically a sweet, sickly, cloying fog that hung over the entire place; it was impossible NOT to notice it. No doubt gods of all kinds were finding their way to this place, one after another. The sensory organs of the simulacrum spied the tell-tale signs of divine gateways all around the arena and in that moment Klaar felt a moment of hope; he was not as alone as he had believed. Letting out a siren call, Klaar released a signal bouncing into every portal within earshot calling to the Gods he had known in the Galbarian plane.

With a popping sensation, Klaar felt the echolocational cry ping back with immediate results. Eyes straining to see in the light, Klaarungraxus’ simulacrum soon recognized a number of visible entities hanging about inside the coliseum. Before him were a number of godling creatures, all spread out and interacting, and in that instant, a number of sensory responses from sub-minds pinged back to the overmind, a need to disguise his presence. With skin warping in color to match the arena around it, the simulacrum flopped down onto the surface to hide itself as much as possible while continuing to let out a low-frequency burst in an attempt to get in contact with more trustworthy gods.

It did not take Fìrinn long to perceive its twin--to be precise, the shortest possible amount of time--and its reaction was immediate. For two thousand years, it had gone without the ability to process the emotional impact of the mortals it had interacted with, and it knew in that moment that it would need to conjoin minds with its twin to restore itself to normalcy and Truth both. It did not move, per se, so much as it simply extended its mantle across the distance between them with claw-tips outstretched. It took only the briefest instant before it was only a few centimeters away from its twin, and it awaited that harmonious and meaning-filled instant in which Àicheil would speak the word that unified them as the Two-as-One. Their long absence would finally be over, and their divergent paths could once again lead them forward to what was meant to be.

It was not that Fìrinn had not perceived and acknowledged the call of Klaarungraxus--it eagerly awaited a reunion with its friend and ally--but this task was simply too important. All other precedents were unimportant, swept away like leaves in a strong gust of wind. Nothing else but purpose mattered or could matter to the God of Truth, and until that purpose was fulfilled it could not and would not rest.

A turning, shifting, twisting motion. Receding color, a storm of sudden indecision and anger, limned with calm and a subtle insidious detachment. Àicheil's attention narrowed, focusing intently upon the mantle of its twin. Upon the intrusion into his space, near his mind. Yet, though the Dreaming God balked at the sight of such attempted unification, another force within him had other things in mind. So it was that the smallest sliver of whimsical intention cast a single thread of substanceless essence forth and in doing so, bound together the twins.

So bloomed a silver flash between those touching points and from them spread a display most magnificent. An expulsion of color. A painted sea contained, now unleashed. Through Fìrinn's mantle spread experience unmarred, beyond understanding, without context. Utter freedom without filter, its like a prismatic sheen, a reflection more vivid than the taste or sight, the sound or sensation of the world they knew. Mirrored in Àicheil's chaotic colors was a monochrome effulgence, an eruption of silvers and blacks--grays and whites--all mixed and spreading, suffusing him.

He resisted.

Yet, even as he fought, the initial wave of unity had been brought about by one traitorous thread of his being. It had been done with will unconscious, and so before he could truly defend himself, much of his mind had already succumbed to the familiar weight of Truth. Meaning came to him then like a flood through a sorting sieve.

Logic

Àicheil's mind grew still. His form coalesced, slowly gathering, his lifeblood poured into a starlit vessel, a silhouette most familiar and preferred.

A long stretch of silence. An unspoken knowing. A renewed unity.

Stability. Àicheil spoke.

"Twin," he said.

Just as the connection begat context and understanding for one, it also qualified the two millennia of human emotion that the other had been unable to process in its time answering mortal prayers. The wave of revelation hit the God of Truth like a physical force, and though it did not stagger them the lights reflecting from their almost-face scattered in a thousand-thousand directions like shards of glass.

“Twin.”

Fìrinn took a moment to catch its metaphorical breath and composed itself, remembering in that moment the summons it heard in the language of the deep. It cast out a strand of thought, unified between the twin gods and equally present in each of their infinite minds, and bid them both towards the simulacrum of Klaarungraxus that had called to them. Its mind reached out to the flesh-puppet crafted of that divine essence and spoke to it from afar, waves of intent crashing upon the comparatively tiny proxy--and only that proxy--with the full force of their combined thoughts.

“Hail, Klaarungraxus Rux. The Two-as-One greet you as the first God to grace our senses, and the most worthy of our notice.”

The small form that was, for all intents and purposes, Klaarungraxus seemed to respond to the mental inquiries of the paired entities that presented themselves before him. Pinging back sensations of pleased success at their arrival, the little ancillary puppet removed itself from hiding. A peculiar sensory return of the paired gods gave an immediate sense of confusion to the overmind, all subminds setting about determining exactly what was now poised to communicate with his simulacra on the other side of the portal. By all rights it was as the conjoined said; Two-as-One gods, the minds of Àicheil and Fìrinn made whole. Though visually they appeared as separate, their divine light seemed most thoroughly intertwined.

”Bountiful nutrients borne in warm waters, Fìrinn-Àicheil. Your conjoined-mind is not known to the many-who-are-we, but your separate-selves are not alien to our consciousness.” Klaar’s meat puppet seemed to bubble outward, growing in size to be at least somewhat more reminiscent of his appropriate shape. ”Explain to us your current state; hath it to do with our shared predicament?”

Attention intertwined, mind awash with meaning, Àicheil regarded this their ally, the Ocean God. Remembered oaths. A faceless smile pressed out from their aura, and an eyeless gaze swept over Klarungraxus' form. Strange to see the god so small, stranger still to feel a distance between them greater than the appearance of such things.

Bizarre to hear words and understand without effort.

Though Àicheil had experienced this before, it had been some time, and even having not felt the passing of those two-thousand years, they had had an impact on him. Numerous dreaming ruminations came to him now with the clarity and context of his twin. With their power, he learned, and having done so, he spoke.

"This is our Truth," he said, and the words were perfectly clear, beautifully concise. None of the obfuscation or verbosity of his twin. Bereft of the singular depth of his own communication. It was filled only with clarity and meaning most necessary and poignant for this their reunion.

"Time. Isolation. The Voids filled," he began, the words flowing forth like intention realized, none overfull with meaning. "Àicheil..." he paused, "Fìrinn. These are merely components."

Extending both arms before him, Àicheil brought his hands together. "As we are. Truth," he pulled them apart, "as we were--a vestige of such." His arms relaxed and a gentle warmth spread from them, it was filled with companionable silence. It was rife with knowing, understanding, and an echoing resonation of respect--perhaps even admiration.

Àicheil waited, content. He had said enough. He had meant enough. There was no need to say more.

The little thing rumbled deeply, though not nearly enough to match Klaar’s usual tonal range; more like several pebbles scattering rather than the rolling of an entire undersea mountainside. It seemed the information presented was being digested by minds one too many concepts away from the here and the now. Nevertheless, one by one the little Klaar-thing seemed to respond with awareness before opening its beak with expressed understanding.

“Clarity as clear skies after storms, all that hangs laid low by scattered rains, it is We who understand most clearly. You are as I am, as many-minds-made-one. Brilliant reflections, gemstones and corals and shells of numerous colors.”

The Klaarungraxus lookalike seemed to lose interest in the topic then, suddenly blatantly aware that Fìrinn and Àicheil had simply mirrored him; whether or not this was the case, the analogy was a simple one for the whole to digest. Just as his numerous minds were separate entities thinking as one, so too were the Gods of Dreaming and Truth. What could be more simple. His numerous eyes went into overdrive devouring the sensory information of the area, looking for anything that might indicate exactly where they were. Sensory pings resulted in response-awareness of the distinct lack of anything other than the arena. Outside of its stone limitations was nothing of consequence and likely extended no further than the eyes could see; perhaps even that was a trick in of itself. They were most assuredly not on Galbar.

”This place, false is its facade, and it leaves me quite wanting; time passed yet I have no concept of this passage. When and Where must be answered and this Doom I had seen come to pass must be counteracted. My thoughts to yours, what experiences hath thine senses perceived?”

“Two thousand years have come and gone since our departure from fair Galbar and her delights. Perhaps the others of our kind have insight, but their words and experiences are not guaranteed to be as our own: Indeed, perhaps only those who foresaw the Doom might rightfully have room to indulge in exposition about its nature. We should retreat to your realm, where our senses are not assailed by the panoply of divinity that permeates this place and you might regale us with the Truth of your form once more.”

Fìrinn made a brief swinging motion with its mantle-claws, as if dismissing something in the far-off distance between them and their divine compatriots, before turning to the portal from which this proxy had emerged. As it was, conjoined with its twin and made whole, it did not need a response from the Old Growth Below’s proxy--it simply knew that its realm was the desired destination, and that its privacy would serve them well in the upcoming discussions. Fìrinn’s experience of the deities other than Klaar thus far was mostly one of naivete, wanton self-indulgence, or both--even those it could claim to have liked, in whatever way Fìrinn was capable of liking anything, were not beings it felt were suitable for the arduous task of contemplating the mysteries of the universe. Perhaps isolation had made strange bedfellows of them all in that time, but some element of distrust and numbness to emotion clearly permeated the God of Truth’s almost-face. Perhaps it was some reflection of Klaarungraxus’ innate wariness, or some element of discordance it had absorbed from its twin that had not yet dissipated--whatever it was or could be said to be, Fìrinn did not feel like saying whatever need to be said in earshot of the other gods, and so it reached out to that portal to Saxus and vanished into the aqueous realm.

Klaarungraxus presented himself in all his magnificent glory in his personal realm; with a little blop the meat-puppet back in Antiquity flopped to the ground, sitting patiently for when it was needed again. Here, in Saxus, the God of Oceans could truly thrive. Although there was an intense desire by many of the tentacle-minds to share and show the realm to his new guests, the overmind overruled them; there were plenty more important things to do than entertain the house guests. With his tentacles wrapped firmly around a number of outcropping, Klaarungraxus carried himself to the central city in Saxus where they could speak more peaceably.

”Two millenia hath passed and we remained trapped here? A most unacceptable occurrence. The reasoning for this catastrophe, though yet unknown, is irrelevant; I refuse to abandon my oceans, and though I feel them now, that voice might be snuffed at any instant by that which imprisoned us so unrightly. An option must be presented to allow this barrier to be expunged, penetrated, or ignored. Let our many-minds become as one on this, for together we can find paths to redress this injustice.”

”Two millenia hath passed and we remained trapped here? A most unacceptable occurrence. The reasoning for this catastrophe, though yet unknown, is irrelevant; I refuse to abandon my oceans, and though I feel them now, that voice might be snuffed at any instant by that which imprisoned us so unrightly. An option must be presented to allow this barrier to be expunged, penetrated, or ignored. Let our many-minds become as one on this, for together we can find paths to redress this injustice.”

The words swam through the mind of the Eldritch Twin and he drew from them meaning and purpose. Àicheil, knowing what he did, felt the tingling pulse of all minds. Reaching out, the Dreaming God gently pressed a single narrow finger against the flesh of the great Klaar. He withdrew.

Immediately, a swirling miasma of colorful meaning was unleashed from deep within the Dreamer's form. It gushed forth into the waters of Saxus like ink or paint or blood and filled it with experience. Spreading quickly, it engulfed the trio of gods and then settled into a gentle blanket of woven sensation. "Connection," Àicheil said, and in doing so, stirred and sifted the Subtle Weave which he had laid about them. His cloak billowed and split, becoming a thousand paper-thin ribbons of intention. They began to play across the power he had summoned to this place.

"Divinity," he intoned without restraint, the gravity of his word and its thunderous meaning echoing out through Klaar's realm in a resounding wave. It was a command of sorts, and the great Dream obeyed.

Resolving in the fabric of that manifested Weave there appeared a god-touched mortal. From that image there came a knowledge and every sensation. The feel, the scent, the sound of this empowered being and from this it was apparent something that they had perhaps yet to consider. Deeply ingrained into this seeming mortal there lay a spark of divinity far greater than any they may have seen before. From that once-fleeting vessel a thread of that power played across the heavens and faded from Galbar, where it vanished entirely, passing into some unknown place beyond.

"The thread. It ends here. There is nowhere else beyond my reach." Àicheil paused and tilted his head for a moment, lost in thought. Fìrinn's clarity returned to him and a deep contemplation emanated from his form, its like entwined with a gentle, thoughtful smile. "This thing. Gibbou has done it, we need only echo its design."

Fìrinn gazed upon the images put forth by its twin, studying them intently. Each mote of light shone through the abyssal depths of Klaar’s divine realm, reflected and refracted endlessly, contained effortlessly within a sphere of Àicheil’s design--a microcosm of the Dreaming God’s infinite mind. Its mantle-claws wove themselves into shears, and it made a motion as if to cut the threads of that great tapestry, severing a hole in that great design and weaving its threads anew with its own context and experience. In but a moment the entire design was overtaken by its new purpose, a billowing cloud of ink-black nothingness sweeping and shuddering across its glassine form until there was nothing but emptiness and loneliness.

But each of the three divines remained, still in close proximity to one another, and still able to commune.

“There is only one divinity greater than we three and the others--that which spawned us, from whose depths we claw’d and fought and emerged. The Lifeblood itself burns and bristles at our touch, unwilling now to drink of our presence--no other force could presume to impeach us. Yet the Mother of the Moon, ignorant to her own ignorance, has stumbled upon the means of our salvation--the Lifeblood may bar entry only to its first children. Fragments of our divinity may yet breach it, and so we must cleave from ourselves our divinity to influence sweet Galbar once more. Well said, Twin.”

Fìrinn took a moment to contemplate the nature of their conundrum before snapping its mantle-claws back into place and dispelling the dregs of that illusion which had served its purpose.

”Her little godling, Twilight, return’d to the weave. All that it is, all that it was, is reflected now through the holy Tairseach--and through the Two-as-One. She made the mistake of granting it free will, of empowering that which already exists--affording her firstborn perception beyond its Truth. To bear this fragment of our greatness as Truth, only that directly crafted by us will suffice.”

All of Klaarungraxus’ great mass seemed to roil and shake in rumination, every inch of the divine of deeps seeming to throw itself entirely into this new task at hand. The information provided to him was absorbed and disseminated across the whole of the minds at Klaar’s disposal. Awareness of what needs be done, of what repetitions were required in order to match or otherwise surpass Gibbou’s work, and of the dangers posed by the enemy of the second born gods of Galbar. A breach was required and unlike the flesh-ancible that he had created earlier, this new entity would need to be considerably more independent while still remaining distinctly Klaarungraxus. An idea pinged back and Klaar went to action.

With a terrible ripping noise that filled the depths of Saxus with a squelching, tearing roar, Klaarungraxus grabbed tightly around Right-Forward Two-Down and tore it free. There was no difficulty in the action, of course, as the limb’s flesh gladly gave way to the works of the elder deity; it was most pleased to be of service, after all, for it had been its idea. The huge tentacle, flopping vigorously in the waves, was dropped unceremoniously downwards before Klaar arrested its drop with an intonation of Deepspeak. With all six eyes focussed on the wriggling object, Klaarungraxus directed all his considerable attentions at the limb-that-would-be-free.

It shook and shuddered and writhed as new flesh grew from the torn stump, blood pouring inwards from the spilled cloud into it to form more flesh for the making of it. Meat and bone was stretched further in all directions, assisted by rock, plant matter, and coral, until an appropriate structure had been made. From the dark cloud of gore slowly emerged a jet black Vrool, the darkness of its hide so deep that light seemed to lose its war and descend into its depth in surrender. Six eyes, just as Klaarungraxus’, stared back forward somewhat aimlessly as the tentacle-mind was grown into a semi-complete overmind of its own. With that simple work complete, Klaar let a connection be made between himself and the avatar to fill it with all his thoughts and experiences even as a new tentacle was grown to replace the one that was lost.

”Right-Forward Two-Down is an inappropriate name as it will be replaced; you are Mawarungraxus,” echoed the deity as he inspected his work both superficially and deep within its mind. It seemed altogether functional, albeit with some neural pathways unique to this Mawar entity, ”You are we.”

”Yes. We are.”

Clarity endowed, words spoken to elucidate further, and a display most divine. These things Àicheil regarded, the ribbon-tendrils of his shroud drifting gently through the waters of Klaarungraxus' wondrous realm. Slowly, subtly, intent thrummed through this ribbon-thin threads, casting them in weaving patterns which caught at the edges of those cast of dreggs. Àicheil pulled them gently, threading them together absently as he observed the work of their elder with wide, muted, interest.

Without thought, beyond true intention a thing of beauty spawned, prismatic blood sifting gently from his cloak, entwining with the dregs of his dream-wrought vision. Gently, water was displaced, that essence which was Klaar's eased away from this idle toy. Yet not all of that liquid was lost, for the substance of the thing appeared in myriad shades--droplets of trapped, shifting color, held in vague union by the will of the Dreaming God.

Àicheil let forth a soothing drone. Ѻs-fhìreach spat out a chaotic thrum. Neo-Àicheil intoned with fervor and rhythm both and together the thrice-named god wove its essence into a silhouette. Yet, it defied definition. Twas but a gently shifting mass of colored particles, all aqueous in their prismatic nature. Held somewhere within them was that shorn shard of divinity, but it could not be said where precisely it was held.

There was silence for a time. Àicheil smiled. Not an echo, not a feeling, but truly a binding constellation 'cross his featureless face. It was so brief as to be missed, but it had been there.

“Faireachan A-staigh,” Ѻs-fhìreach declared. In those words there were held great meaning, and power greater still for with their utterance the haze of dreamy light did shift. From its formless facade there emerged a silhouette most vague. It was a whisper of form, a thing which might be mistaken for a human silhouette, if only from the right angle.

It kept its shape then, but there remained a fleeting sense about it as gently glowing particles pressed in and out of its visage, forming an aura of light-refracting moisture.

Satisfied, Àicheil withdrew his strength and let relax his cosmic intellect, leaving all else to his Truthbound Twin.

Noticing the conclusion of its twin’s weaving, Fìrinn set to work. From between its true hands a shard of crystal came into being, and with a gentle nudge from its mantle-claws it drank of the waters and the effulgent cosmic residue left behind by the works of the other gods. In an instant its form exploded forth, a slab of hallowed silver crystal much like that of the holy Tairseach suspended between the three. Shards of that leftover material coalesced together between the God of Truth’s mantle-claws, and from it grew another crystalline form--two blades, a deconstructed pair of shears, honed to an edge so fine they would cut even the divine. Gazing into that mirror, Fìrinn took the two blades in its mantle-claws and cut from the sunless cryst its own reflection, bidding it step forward into the murky waters and into reality.

“Faileasiar; the Behindling. Cut from mine own reflection, shaped from the sanctum of the Tairseach. In mirrors shall you find purchase; in reflections shall you find Truth.”

Its form seemed to waver and ripple, and as Fìrinn trained its godly perception upon the newly created Avatar it seemed to vanish from existence--only to be found within the mirror before it. With a nod it simply slinked away, disappearing from view, and made its way to Galbar where it was inextricably bound for all of eternity. Fìrinn gazed upon the two blades it had used to craft its avatar. Though they had lost that preternatural keenness and lustre, they would perhaps still serve a purpose as tools for mortalkind to use: instruments of Truth, to cut away that which was false and shape reality into what it was meant to be. Indeed, they could serve as tools of beginnings and endings both--an experiment, of sorts, to see what mortalkind’s perception of Truth would become had they the tools to influence it and the means to perceive it. Its mantle-claws gripped the two blades tightly and thrust them through the reflection in the mirror, holding them for just a second, before Faileasiar’s glassine claws took them for itself and vanished back into nothingness.

“This mirror shall serve as a portal to the Buaileagan Aimsireil. Manipulate it however you like, Klaarungraxus Rux, but know this: for as long as the alliance between Oceans and Reflections stands, my realm shall be open to you and yours. By our combined efforts shall Truth be aligned with reality.”

”A reflection from one realm to another? Scintillating scales and scattered light off glassy surface.” Klaar seemed to lean in, observing the object with deep fascination before returning his attention to the duod gods most reasonably called Rux and allies. A similar concept could likely be repeated and Klaar immediately set about in its creation. As Mawar watched with idle curiosity, Klaarungraxus vomited forth two rough, unhewn black pearls before nudging them through the water towards the twined gods.

”When so planted, the blackest depths of oceans deep shall be born; from that darkness, routes open. Thine passageway need only be cast in darkness for the oculus to be opened. An acceptable solution, We think.”

Klaarungraxus turned to Mawar and rumbled, eyeing the jet black Vrool with intense curiosity; never before, he had to admit, had he been able to look at himself in such a manner. An experience most fascinating, concluded the minds alongside the newly grown Right-Forward Two-Down. With that one tentacle stretched forward, tapping Mawar on the bell and enveloping the lesser graxus in darkness. As that inky blackness receded or otherwise dissipated, the form of Mawar disappeared.

”Twelve tentacles twisted, may our luck hold. We shall see from the otherside if gentle breezes or rough waves await our machinations back on the world not of our own making.”

A mirror risen, a reflection shorn, from Klaar's maw dual black pearls were torn.

Àicheil's aspect shifted faintly in the ocean tide of the great eld's realm as he observed the acts of these his allies--Fìrinn and Klaar. A small laugh trickled from the Dreaming God and danced among the waves, but he gave that humor no hold over his actions as one ribbon rose up with a current-wave. It tangled with the pearl of black and pulled it from the sea's swirling hold. Àicheil held it fast, its glossy sheen dark and bold. Upon its surface the god's attention fell, but it was merely a glancing touch. Turning, the Eldritch Twin regarded then the mirror of his twin's making.

Ribbons curled and danced about him frantically as he held that gaze, then he bade them move, and they obeyed. Flitting forth they touched the crystal's surface and around it weaved a glowing nervous gleam.

"Oceans depth and tides sweep far, a mirror's bare reflection, by Dream unmarred," the words...they seemed to hold so little of the god's myriad meanings. Instead, their nature, their purpose, it could be found by observing the many gaps left therein. They spoke of yearning. They said 'incomplete,' they declared 'I will change it.'

Ѻs-fhìreach raised a hand, and with it seven ribbons split seven times, and each in turn split seven more till threads uncountable and unseen were formed from where they'd been before. Darting wisps of intent, they flitted about the mirror, and one by one they vanished.



A flicker of sound. A dash of sweetness. A fluttering emotion in the stomach. A stirring kaleidoscope of color. A pattern vast, infinite in its scope, turned upon itself, devouring and creating in equal measure. It expanded, but did not grow as if one grew merely closer to it. A vision of countless cascades of rippling pools and pulling tendrils, grasping minds and wills cast forth to gnash against the world.

The Grand Design.

Unfurling from the Truth God's mirror, a reflection writ reality sprang forth. With its crossing of the threshold bare it lost a glimmer of infinity, but it gained substance, and spread throughout Klaar's realm like ten-trillion dancing strings. They faded, became obscure, the waves pulled with fervor, and soon only a gentle shifting sheen was left within Klaar's waters--which had once been truly clean.

Ѻs-fhìreach reached forth with one long-fingered hand. It came to rest upon Klaar's shoulder-face, where tentacle spawned and outward raced.

"Dream, and you may come to my realm Ocean-Rux, Brother Klaar." The moment was a gentle affection laid bare, pure and untainted by any further goal or ambitious air.

Upon the Tairseach mirror-twin there laid now runes and sigils deep within. Its reflection had been marked. It was whole.

Àicheil turned from Klaar and--gently--withdrew from Fìrinn as well.

"Galbar awaits," he said.

"To siblings-minds I am drawn. From narrow skulls I shall exhume context. In time will we convene once more."

With a parting gesture, Àicheil's deific strength reached out and touched the mirror.

A blinding flash.

Connection.

"So bound are our realms three."

Though he bid them not farewell, within Àicheil their essences would remain. Held close to core, they'd be an anchor against his drifting nature's endless refrain. In waters both near and far they'd hold him fast against the great pull of whim and nightmarish disconnection. So from Saxus did Àicheil depart and as he passed beyond that ocean-place, there remained only an echo of his reflection.


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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Tristar
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Tristar The Disappointed Scion

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BEHOLD

One day, He existed. Not in the form He now possessed, nor in any way resembling his current sentience and consciousness. But He existed where and when during a point in time when He did not, and thus considered it to be the single most remarkable event that had happened in his life.

Thus far.

He wasn't quite sure why he had been brought to life, nor why He existed in the swirling mass that He was at the moment. He merely existed, and in the short span of time he did, He was completely directionless.

"Gods, anything to get back at him." He blinked, if He had eyes, which at this stage, He did not. For the first time since He was born, in the very short span of period that He existed, He heard a voice. It was a weak, pitiful voice that dripped with malice and for some indistinct reason, He felt a solid connection to this voice. To his surprise, at his mere will and desire an image formed in the blank void.

The owner of the voice was a man crawling in the dirt, bloodied, bruised and thoroughly beaten. Standing over him was a not-so-harmed man, grinning with pride and accomplishment. He 'blinked' once again and watched with abject curiosity.

"Gods, what I would give to wipe that smirk of your face Thaptus."

The clear victor chuckled. "Every time you say that, and no one replies Maron. Come, you still have much to learn." At those words, Thaptus leaned down and extended an arm to his sparring partner.

Of the two humans that He had just witnessed, his interest grew at Maron's words- his spirit that dripped with a small droplet of black, viscous essence. He was not long in this realm, but He already knew what it was: Hate. He hungrily latched onto that small trickle of emotion, but anguished when it faded away as Maron accepted Thaptus's hand. He hungered for more, but there was aught He could do in his current form. His essence rippled at the thought of creation, and He closed his eyes.

- - - - - -

He awoke, his eyelids peeled back and greeted with the cosmic void that surrounded him. He knew not why he had chosen his name, only that He knew it was his alone. A mouth formed on his featureless visage, glowing coals of teeth that glowed in the dark."I. Am. Haerthus." He paused, thinking hard at his next words that would ring across his realm.

"Behold-" His swirling mass soon assumed the shape of a cloaked and hooded figure, flakes of burning ash floating around him. "-my August Majesty." With a quick flick of his mass-less arms, he coloured his realm a streak of rust orange and gave it form. He gouged earth and hewed stone at the mere thought, sundered soil and cracked open the dark void to reveal the sky. It lacked a finality, so he willed one into existence: it took a few tries until a burning sphere erupted from nothing, sending waves of heat and light to illuminate his new world.

It bore warmth, then unbearable heat and discomfort to Haerthus.

And for the first time in the ages that he was born, Haerthus learned to hate the Sun he had drafted from his own will. Haerthus sat on a chair that rose from the dust, as his realm continued to grow. As it did so, waves of whispered hate soon trickled into his courtly chambers, of the old, the young, the weak and the strong. He listened to one and fed upon their bitterness that to him alone tasted sweet. There in his throne, he remained seated, slowly soaking his fill of mortal malice and wrath.

Yet among the whispers that he listened, Haerthus gleaned a familiar voice. It grew louder with each passing, until Haerthus could no longer hold back himself, and gaze upon Maron, the young man whom had first delivered words of prayer unknowingly to Him.

- - - - - -

Maron had passed many winters yet since his first call for vengeance. He was still recognizable from his scrawny figure, and his dejected form as he watched in silent bitterness as Thaptus planted a flower on the hair of his newly betrothed. Though he smiled, Haerthus saw Maron's cold blackened heart. It shone brighter than the sun over the village's wedding, and radiated with such cold fury. He gave pause and dwelled on his thoughts. As the sun set o'er the village, with barely a fraction of a moment having passed in Haerthus' realm, he came to his decision.

As the dejected mortal sat by the cold stream that cut across his village, his thoughts meandered through the cold night's breeze. Thaptus was the village champion, but Heyla was Maron's.

Until Thaptus played Maron like a fool, and twisted Heyla around his finger.

All Maron could do, the poor son of the village tanner, was watch his old friend went into the arms of his wife. A tear drop ran down his cheek and fell into the cold stream water. As the droplet broke the water's surface, Maron's bitter words brought Haerthus much joy. "If any gods are out there, grant me peace: strike Thaptus and Heyla down."

"A God listens."

Haerthus' quiet voice echoed within Maron, who quickly turned around to find nobody behind him. "But this God has little patience." For a brief moment, Maron hesitated. A strange voice that spoke to him was not something his elders had taught him by the night fires. . .but they always spoke of the Gods and their mysterious ways.

And the voice did claim to be a God.

"You can-" Maron paused, before he shut his eyes. You are a God?, he thought silently. "I do not enjoy repeating myself." Haerthus' voice prickled with barely concealed anger. Maron shuddered to imagine a God in open anger, but he also paused his next thoughts.

Do you. . .punish wrongdoers?

"Haerthus does not punish. Haerthus enables the punishment of those who have wronged others."

If. . .if I tell you to punish Thaptus and Heyla-

"Then you will be the instrument of your own desired vengeance." Haerthus interjected in between Maron's thoughts. Back within his realm, the God of Hate leaned back within his chair with impatience. "Make your prayers, Maron son of Diathod. You have hate. You have anger. I will give you the peace of mind you so desire in exchange for your putrid malice."

Maron took one long look at the village behind him. Somewhere between the thatch huts and clay houses, Thaptus and Heyla were embracing each other in ecstasy and love that should have been Maron's and Heyla's.

But that woman had cast her die with Thaptus. Maron balled his fists and stood up. Haerthus, I beseech thee: grant me my vengeance and I will give you worship.

"You are weak, Maron. But your faith in me gives you strength." As the divine voice faded away in Maron's ears, his vision blurred, his breath hastened. First to go was his apprehension at striking his first deal with a God, then was the strength in his legs. Maron fell to his knees, but he could no longer feel the world around him.

In place of confusion, anxiety and fear- all that remained within Maron, son of Diathod was unbridled anger towards two individuals. He clumsily picked himself up and staggered for the village- Haerthus' will be done.

- - - - - -

Back in his realm, Haerthus gasped for air, even if he did not need to breath. His first attempt at speaking with a mortal of Galbar went well. He hoped.

Yet in the instance of mortal dependence to his divine intervention, Haerthus felt a greater intensity of- emotion- than he had if he merely absorbed the absent-minded pleas for his attention. Clearly, the fledgling god had much to learn of his divine nature and the extent of his capabilities.

He leaned back in his throne, eyeing Maron's path to self-actualization with vague interest. He would make a much more attentive observation of his first follower, but his attention was drawn to the sudden rupture that shook his sun-scorched halls.

In the instant it appeared, Haerthus was already drawn to the gaping swirling maw of blue-and-white lights.

He knew not where it came from, but all he knew was that it beckoned alluringly to the deity. Haerthus stood up from his throne, throwing Maron a quick glance to note his progress and exhaled.

It was a very long. . . .day?

Haerthus was already beginning to suspect it wouldn't get any easier from here on out, and entered through the gates of Antiquity.



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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Enzayne
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Enzayne Invading Eldar

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Frostbite, Part 2.


Featuring Sanya and the Weike


A collab between @AdorableSaucer and @Enzayne.





The storm didn’t let up for almost a week. The wind and snow washed over the tundra like a tide of white, except that no gravity was there to draw it back to sea again. Every day, the Weike would wake up to find the telt curtains resting on their foreheads from all the weight of last night’s snowfall, and all would quicken to life and hurry out the tent flaps to dig themselves out again. By the end of the week, snow could no longer reach the tents themselves, as it couldn’t get past the heaping walls of that which had been shoveled off earlier in the week. Rammed, packed snow walls ringed every tent, and while that kept the storm out, they made the camp cumbersome to navigate, especially when the carcasses of the hunt were brought back. The storm brought loss with it, too, as the cold killed two villagers and six of their reindeer pack. The weight of the snowfall packed itself so tightly and heavily over the ground, too, that even the resilient, powerful reindeer snouts struggled to reach the moss, lichen and grass hidden away underneath. This left the pack starved towards the end of the week, and the tribe lost another two calves.

The air was heavy in the central lavvo, which had been erected to be as short as possible, so the wind wouldn’t carry with it the tent walls. The grim silence left a creeping anxiety in everyone’s bellies as the chieftain rose to take the word. Sanya still struggled to make out most of it, but the context made it clear enough - as did the lacking contents in the reindeer stomach cookpot over the central fire. They were out of food, and now that the storm had stopped, they had to move on, lest their herd would die and as would they.

The sober reality of the situation had worn down even Sanya, the fire with which she had waited the first two nights for the storm to abate and head back out to finish what she’d started replaced with the solemn grief the villagers influenced her with. Worse, the building anxiety had begun to disturb her thoughts enough that she noticed herself worrying about simple things like the survival of the tribe. She didn’t want to admit it, but the people had started to grow on her. That made her feel guilty. She’d drained their resources. The apparent terror with which the tribe had continued to treat the subject of the troll when she tried to bring it up made her wonder if she should have just helped them with the reindeer. Now it was out there, and the blood trail was gone since long ago. Even if she made her way back to the best of her memory, it meant abandoning these people to their fate - even after all they’d done to keep her from death’s door. Sanya gritted her teeth at that. She couldn’t even die without bringing ruin to others.

She wasn’t even sure the troll was alive. It had been so stormy, there was no telling how deep her cut was. It could have bled out. She could be tracking a corpse, and end up lost and alone in the cold again. All for nothing. Worse, she’d abandon the tribe after all this. After their hardship. The thought of the lost villagers made her bitter, even though she knew it wasn’t her own emotion. Or perhaps it was, now. Either way, Sanya thought to herself, it’d be foolish to venture after the troll with nothing but the weapon to her name. And she wouldn’t ask them for supplies. She couldn’t do that to Lehtta. It was different, now. At least until they were safe.

She felt a soft pound on her shoulder and Sabba’s sister, Aile, sat down next to her and offered her a pair of hide mittens, saying something which could be understood as “you cold”, only in an imperative sense. Sanya accepted the offering, brought out of her haze briefly as she instinctively flexed her fingers. She gave Aile a smile, though she knew it wasn’t as genuine as theirs had ever been, and thanked her for the gift with a phrase in their language. She was fairly certain by now how to say thank you, she could do that much, even if she butchered the dialect with every attempt. She exhaled on her hands in short order and busied herself with trying the mittens instead.

Aile giggled at the response and repeated it: “Giittus,” she said with a smile and stroked her cheek amiably. She then said something else, though it was unclear what she meant. Judging from her tone, it could be anything from a motivational speech to an order. However, she didn’t get to finish before Sabba came over and sat down opposite of Aile. She rolled her eyes at her brother’s conduct, and Sabba scoffed back, turning instead to Sanya with a broad smile before thumbing towards the tent flaps and asking something in a giddy tone.

Sanya quirked a brow, trying to follow Sabba’s question and deconstruct it in her mind - it was no use. Even after two weeks he still had no mind to slow down his speech even a little bit. She followed his gesture instead, trying to deduce what he could mean. He knew - more or less - that Sanya had taken every chance she got to bring up the troll. Was that the news? Perhaps he simply wanted to show her something. She realized she’d kept them both waiting in demure silence for a little too long, and simply nodded at him. There was one way to find out. Sanya pushed up from her seat slowly, hand immediately searching for her valued weapon.

Then, as quickly as she had risen, Aile grabbed her by the hand and gently pulled her back down, looking at her as though she was being ridiculous. Then, she burst out shaming her brother and Sabba’s expression offered several eye rolls. He then rose up and walked away again. Aile shook her head and took Sanya by her hands, nodding slowly before clicking her tongue. Her following sentence contained a word Sanya definitely had heard before: “Stupid.”

The reality of the situation began to dawn on the millennia-old woman. A chore perhaps? Another of Sabba’s attempts to learn her footwork? Would Aile keep her from tracking down the troll? No more than any of the others would, she thought. She frowned to herself briefly. This wait - this powder keg - was making her second-guess herself. She didn’t like that. Sanya breathed a terse chuckle to ease the tension, shifting in her renewed sitting position as she glanced after Sabba briefly, before finally offering a small shrug of her shoulders to the girl. “Stupid?” she questioned in turn. She doubted she’d understand the answer, but Aile seemed comfortable around her. If only they knew.

Suddenly, the chieftain spoke a sentence and everyone busied themselves with packing up. Aile nodded all around and patted Sanya on the knee, thumbing over her shoulder while saying something along the lines of ‘it’s time’. Then she crawled over to her own part of the tent and started fiddling with her packs. Others began taking their belongings out of the tent, and the tent walls were loosening and pulling inwards as the bone splits holding them to the ground were pulled up. Sanya in turn rose from her seat for good this time, making sure to grab Sorrowsting and what little belongings she had been assigned over the course of her stay, as well as the pack with what meagre supplies remained of her initial journey. Mostly trinkets from a bygone age and forgotten places. She should have thrown it all out a long time ago. Still, she did her part, grabbing the heaviest gear she could find to haul it outside. She wasn’t that strong - two-thousand years of fighting had certainly taught her that, but on a good day she still rivalled most of them. Sanya wrapped what passed as cover around the lower half of her face and stepped out into the snow with plenty of gear in tow.

In less than an hour, the whole village had been packed on pulks, which were both strapped to people and reindeer. Everyone strapped snowshoes or flat wooden boards known as skis on their feet. Sanya had received her own pair of snowshoes earlier in the week, fashioned from bone, sticks and straps of reindeer skin. Due to her strength, the chieftain entrusted her with a pulk of her own, grinning and praising her all the while. When all was prepared, they set out. The direction which they were heading was unclear, though they were heading away from the mountains. Whenever Sanya would ask where they were going, she’d get the same answer: “Lulli.” The word was unfamiliar, but it gained meaning as they approached the woods and Sanya saw which side the moss was growing on: They were heading southwards, away from the mountains...

And the troll.

The mere thought filled Sanya with a deep dread. If the beast was - as she suspected - still alive, would it strike again? If not this tribe, then surely there were others. She had the chance to make sure it was dead, that mankind as a whole had won a lasting victory in the endless war in at least one godforsaken land, and she had thrown it aside because what? She was tired? Cold? Worried about people she didn’t know? Their shared bitter sorrow and anxiety still lingered in her heart, but whether their own hearts lightened with the journey, or the physically taxing work gave her something else to focus on, Sanya felt at least partial relief from her torment. They were heading to safer ground, for their survival. That would have to be enough for now. She did after all, have all the time in the world to come back. Hopefully they’d give the mountains a wide berth until she did. She fought the urge to stop and head back several times, keeping her eyes on the others. Reminding herself of what she pledged so long ago. It wasn’t just about her. It had to be about them.

As they got deeper into the forest, the snow cover lessened, most having been caught by the pine tree wall at the very north. Here, the reindeer could eat the frozen moss and lichen, as well as the birch bark from the rare few specimens that could grow between the imposing pines. They had already been travelling for two days, though, and the cold and starvation had forced them to put down another reindeer cow, just so its flesh wouldn’t go to waste. They had few left, now - twenty heads for a village of eighty people; if they managed to maintain those, it still wouldn’t last them the winter. The chieftain sent out orders again, to herders, hunters and Sanya alike. The context made them clear as day: Seeing as calving still was months off, they couldn’t rely on the herd to replenish itself naturally for now. They would have to fill their satchels with stockfish and dried meats from other beasts - species didn’t matter; this was life or death.

The herders spent the day making fishing spears and hooks from bone, and fishing lines and nets from what sinew they had; the hunters took to the wilds in search of game, though their hopes were mellow in this part of the woods. Having spent the better part of her very long life stalking the world for all manner of prey, and owing to her own constitution, hunting was the natural choice for Sanya. With her help, she reasoned, they’d have a much better chance. She didn’t have the patience to sit still or fight the water, either.

Just as the hunters had feared, though, the woods were barren of game - it had either trekked southward already, or moved further east to avoid the Weike. They found something else that perhaps was more concerning - it was a shewolf, battered and broken, with blood spilling across the snow as though something had squeezed it to death. The hunters knelt in closer to inspect the corpse, disgusted by its brutalised manner.

Sanya gripped Sorrowsting tightly as she approached, undaunted by the gruesome sight. Not many things could disgust her anymore, but they could certainly worry her. A quick inspection from afar was all she needed - a predator dead in such a grim manner meant only one thing - the woods were barren of game for a reason. Something else lingered here. That burrowing dread from before niggled at the back of her mind as her eyes skimmed the forest and the ground instead, letting the hunters draw their own conclusions. It wasn’t as though she could form a well-reasoned argument for them, but she could use what she had learned to keep them safe.

The hunters shook their heads at one another. Sabba, who was among them, looked at Sanya and said in a grim voice, “jiehtanas…” and Sanya had heard that word before - specifically it was the herders that had shouted it in panic as the troll the reindeer herds attacked last week. They would have to move further south before nightfall, lest the troll would doubtlessly be upon them as soon as the sun dipped under the horizon. The forest was eerily dark, however - a troll could potentially hide from the sun in as thick a forest as this one. This made only the hunters tenser, and the pace back home went from a walk to a jog. Whenever Sanya would turn back to whence they’d come, it was almost as though the wolf’s blood trailed further into the woods, almost like that one time in the mountains.

She caught herself breathing heavily, and for a moment she was unsure whether the anxiety she felt truly came from those around her. She was so close. A million thoughts rocketed through her head. How large were the chances she’d stumble upon the troll as it laid in wait for the sun to set? What would the vegetation do for her chances? If it wasn’t the same troll as the one they had run into previously, was it larger? She found herself looking forward to Sabba and the others. Who would pull her load if she left them now? Could they get to safety if she stalked the woods? Perhaps if she remained behind, they’d have a greater chance. Whether she liked it or not, Sanya rolled to a slow stop, struck by indecision.

The hunters except for Sabba continued on, and the young man walked up to Sanya and sighed, saying something along the lines of “coming?” He then held out his hand for her to take. Sanya looked him straight in the face, wracked with a building guilt. She had run away, all that time ago. This felt like running. Another chance at reprisal vanishing like sand running through her fingers. Stupid boy. Why did he have to look at her like that? Why did he care if she stayed? She wouldn’t. Would she? A deep frown grew on her features, tormented by her thoughts, her inability to see a straight path even now. It always ended in pain. And yet… Sanya hesitated for a moment, then reached out to take his hand with one of hers, a firm grip on her spear with the other.

Sabba nodded and started pulling her along after the hunters. His pace was even quicker than before, as they needed to catch up, but his hand held onto hers firmly, saying more than any manner of words ever could: You’re one of us. Her eyes were affixed on him as her thoughts continued to plague her, letting him guide her back towards the camp more passively than she would have normally allowed. For a moment, it was nice for someone else to take charge. Was that what she had been doing this entire time? Weeks spent assisting a small tribe in no man’s land? Was she helping, or just avoiding what she had come out here to do? She’d wanted to die, yet she found herself avoiding it at every turn, even now. Had her time with them gotten to her that much? For a few days in the middle there, she had been content to just be the helpful stranger. That mattered. Sanya increased her own pace a little, keeping up with Sabba as they trailed the other hunters. They’d taken her in despite their own meagre lives.

The least she could do was repay that debt.

They arrived at the newly erected campsite and the hunters quickly shared their findings with the chieftain. A harsh argument followed, during which Sabba seemed to scold the chieftain for something, whereas the chieftain remained steadfast and unmoving. As Sanya looked around, she saw how weary the Weike were, how exhausted the journey had made them. An arm hooked under hers from behind and she turned to see Aile wearing a frown. She pulled her away from the commotion and over towards a small gathering of women, who were in the process of knitting nets. The fishermen had in contrast been very successful, and a few small baskets of fish had already been caught. They would need time to dry out and smoke properly, though, and it was clear that Aile thought stocking up on fish was a better bet than prowling the woods for non-existent game.

Sanya watched the tribe in their work, letting Aile drag her where she wanted her to go. She knew she’d never be able to convince the chief to move, she’d already lost her temper once in the first week when they tried to take her spear away during a minor job. No, the best chance they had was that they came to any realization on their own. If they stayed - she would have to stand guard through the night. But it’d be a small price to pay. Sanya followed the direction Aile gave her, but her eyes followed the commotion, and the tree line. She was promptly sat down on a heap of snow and given a length of sinew. Aile squatted down next to her and tried as delicately as possible to show Sanya how to knit a net the way the other women were, all while explaining the process in their incomprehensible language. The stream of words did not help. Sanya did her best to follow the instructions, but between the need to keep herself aware and the bad mood she felt streaming from other places in the camp, it was hard to focus on banal work like this. All it took was a moment’s distraction, and she caught herself missing a step in Aile’s demonstration. Long gone were the days when she’d spend all day picking berries and fruit with her mother.

“Cadien’s fist,” she muttered to herself, trying to refocus on the surprisingly intricate process, and her new job for the day. This adrenaline she felt, this dread, seemed like it would never settle. Aile sighed in mild frustration, but it seemed more aimed at herself than Sanya. She reached out and squeezed her shoulder with a mittened hand and pointed to the waterbank, where two fishermen sat with rods in their hands and hooks in holes in the ice. She said a short sentence, which Sanya was certain contained the words “go” and “there”, though it seemed uncannily long for that to be its whole meaning.

Sanya relented as swiftly as Aile allowed it, rising from her seat among the women. She did have the presence of mind to at least look apologetic about it, but internally she was relieved to be rid of such frustrating detail-work. She’d lived forever, and even then there was not enough time to bother with it. Still having issues taking her eyes from the forest, she mosied over towards the fishermen instead, spear in one hand. She should have stayed in the forest. She was a liability here.

No one looked particularly surprised, either, and a few of the women snickered before Aile shut them up with some mittened pointing. The fishermen followed the source of the commotion behind them to Aile, and then saw Sanya approaching. One of them thumbed to a nearby bone pick with which she could chip her own hole in the ice to fish through. A fishing spear, also fashioned from bone, already laid ready by the pickaxe. Sanya set to work without delay. She’d never ice-fished before, but she did have very many years of experience wielding a spear. Sorrowsting fortunately could not be jealous, she hoped at least, and she didn’t really want to sully her weapon with water and fish. Looking over to the two fishermen’s example, she carved out a hole without much issue. The banality of a new chore ahead. She counted the time it would take to run to the forest from here in her head. Considered how many trees breaking she would hear before it was too late to intercept.

Considering they had given her a fishing spear for ice-fishing, the task was much harder for her than for the rod-fishers. The fish weren’t plentiful enough for her to just be able to stab it into the water and pull up her bounty. The two fishermen would occasionally snicker between them when she went at it, only to pull up an empty spear. Sanya did her best to ignore them. Her concern was with the safety of the tribe, not this pointless attempt at making the best of a poor situation, or the jollies of a few men she could kill in their sleep. She frowned to herself, shaking that particular thought away. It wasn’t the first time they’d had fun at the strange foreigners' expense. She’d just rise above it. Repay her debt.

She stabbed at the water again, but even her reflexes were not enough to salvage her half-baked attempt. The frustration made her arms itch, made her grip the spear harder. Why didn’t she stay in the forest? She could have dealt with this on her own terms, instead of wasting time. Every time she tried to compromise, it felt bad. Even after all this time. She sighed, resigning herself to repeating her attempts at landing at least a single catch.

She kept this up until nightfall, and the fishermen’s expressions went from mocking smirks to gingerly frowns as Sanya never seemed to stop, no matter how rarely the fish bit. In all, she managed to catch two, but it had taken her four hours and the sky was black as the abyss under the ice by the time the second one was foolish enough to swim underneath her speartip. Now the fishers had packed up and left, leaving only Sanya by the lake. The camp was starting to grow drowsy, and the chieftain was selecting the night’s shift guards. Sanya collected her things with a stifled yawn, ready to call off her efforts as the water relinquished its’ latest bounty. She waddled back towards the camp with her two fish and the equipment, felt anxiety come creeping in, and quickly moved back to pick up Sorrowsting as well. She wouldn’t ask to sit watch. She didn’t need their permission. Sanya moved to drop off the fish in the first and best place she saw others working with fish, trying her best to eavesdrop as she went about returning to camp properly.

She couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying, but she saw that Sabba took first watch. Sanya shuffled over quietly to be part of the general group, just in case they acknowledged her, but her mind was set already. If a troll came barrelling through the woods, she needed to be ready. Sabba was a hard worker, usually, but she wasn’t about to leave the fate of the tribe to him. He shouldn’t have to carry that burden. Sanya frowned again, trying to focus her thoughts by counting the steps to the forest.

A hand grabbed hers, and as expected, it was Sabba, sounding giddy in his voice as he pulled her along to the campfire. The chieftain rolled his eyes meanwhile, but didn’t protest, heading instead inside his tent as everyone else did. The young man pointed at the forest and said something about the “jiehtanas” again as he ground his fist against his palm, laughing proudly. Sanya huddled together, doing her best to look jovial in response to his revelry, though she lifted and held her spear close in idle preparation. It didn’t matter what language they spoke. She’d heard the bragging before. The false confidence before chaos and death came rolling in. They told themselves they could do anything, or this time would be different, or that just this once, the gods were watching. Sanya stared at Sabba quietly, knowing the truth of the matter after millennia of experience. There were no gods watching. If they were, they didn’t care about people like him. If they did, it was random, and fickle. It was pain that ruled the world, and men with eyes like Sabba’s were never ready until they had seen death already.

The watch started rather uneventfully, with Sabba seemingly telling endless stories that were finalised by that same proud laughter. He tried to use his hands to make them come to life, and the stories pretty much boiled down to, “I killed this, too, by the way.” Occasionally, he would also huddle in close and excuse himself by saying “cold”. Sanya bore the brunt of it with stoic grace, and on one occasion felt herself genuinely grateful for a bit of human contact. After centuries of depraved individuals trying to make life miserable for others in any way they could, the attention of one passionate village boy was extremely tame in comparison. And not so surprising. The Weike weren’t exactly brimming with choice - not that she’d really been looking. When he got too enthusiastic, she neatly intercepted with questions about the language, or picked out a word in his story to make him explain. All the while, she could keep an eye on the woods.

Eventually, Sabba got bored, however, and focused his gaze upwards at the sky instead. Occasionally, he would mumble things to himself (or to Sanya - it wasn’t always clear), but after a while, his eyelids got too heavy for him and he eventually started nodding in and out of sleep. The woods were silent, with the odd nightingale singing sourly to the moon. Sanya fought to stay awake. Sabba’s spirited stories, meaningless as they were, had contributed a great deal it seemed, and now that he turned silent, she felt the fatigue of the day roll in as well. Only the crisp air did any part in keeping her focused. She jabbed Sabba with the blunt end of the spear once, but gave up on keeping him in any reliable state when he went straight back to his half-sleep. As soon as the sun was up, they’d be safe for another day. She stared towards the woods, lifting a mitten to stifle another yawn.

Then, movement in the woods. Sanya’s body sprung awake as the unpleasant dread of being confronted by the unknown washed over her. Even now, her hairs stood on end as though she was still scared of the dark. She blinked several times as worn eyes tried to confirm the presence before she roused an entire tribe, grip around Sorrowsting whitening her knuckles in her mittens. Oh, how she wanted to see in the dark. Add this to the list of times it would have helped everyone. Sabba was kicked awake by the reaction, staring into the forest with her. Something approached - something massive. It was larger than what Sanya had fought before.

And it quickened its pace.




The dark-haired woman trudged slowly through the snow, now no deeper than a light cover around her feet. Heavy, ragged breaths plagued her as she pushed onwards, the fatigue of drained adrenaline put all her remaining focus on moving one foot in front of the other. Sanya brought her unprotected hand to rub at her face, immediately regretting it when she felt herself drag blood all over her skin - again. She tried to wipe her hand on her clothes, but that only made it worse, and the blood-soaked warrior resigned herself to simply keep moving.

She limped through the snow in silence, kept company only by her own breath and her spear, following the trees and the water south. It was best not to think. Best not to worry. The cycle of pain and death followed her wherever she went. Sabba’s proud laughter ran through her mind as his nonsense stories replayed in her mind. Aile’s welcoming attempts to make her one of them, despite Sanya’s own best efforts. Lehtta’s no-nonsense attitude and proof that not all power was physical. Sanya felt the bitterness begin to swallow her heart. She hadn’t been with them long, but the Weike had left a permanent stamp on her soul. Even when they snickered at her different ways, they did so without true ill intent. For a while, she had felt like she could belong. In that respect they were more human than any tribe she’d met for hundreds of years. They didn’t deserve to house a monster like her.

As the sun began to peek over the horizon, throwing it’s warm light on the woman to counter the crisp and cold air, Sanya took a few moments to catch her breath and watch the sunrise. The light gave her a new opportunity to examine herself, and just how deeply soaked in blood she was. Even Sorrowsting was new hues of red and black.

Sanya frowned, and then continued her slow, limping journey towards warmer climates.







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Iternis


Iternis smiled as he leaned back on his hands in the center of Antiquity. Although no air blew in the collosal structure, the God of Journey's could still feel a swirling liveliness in the sacred place as all his siblings poured out of exile and milled around the field. This was not the victory he sought for the last two millennia, but it was a close second to truly going back to Galbar. Iternis sent his mind away from his body in Antiquity and gazed all across the land for the first time in ages.

The god looked down at all the mortals, all the small beings, and saw how they were trapped. Not by chains or walls, although some were, but by mountains, oceans, and distance. So little had changed or moved since he himself had walked those lands. In some places, he saw mortals trying to break the gaps between them, through boats and trails but still, too few dared to leave what they knew because the only way they could would be on foot. They were so bound, yet he could still feel their yearning.

“I have neglected my duty,” Iternis declared to himself, determined to right that wrong.

Mortals longed to be able to go over their horizons, to seek out grander and better things that their home could not offer, but too many times nature stood in their way. Iternis could sense in the minds of a few mortals a desire, one that some had already acted on. A desire to try and tame nature to help them. Iternis sent down his voice and whispered in the ears of many thousands of mortals, urging them to seize the beasts of their land and to tame and use them for their own desire. That desire to see past the horizon.

His power moved over Toraan, starting in the very north. In the ice and snow, humans began to lash their sleds to the large shaggy beasts that wandered those lands. The Boreal Stags, with their long fur, graceful legs capped with wide hooves, and endless strength were brought into the fold, perfect for trudging through the deepest of winter or clamoring through the rocky highlands. Further south, in the Plains of Sol and the Gardens, Iternis’s voice whispered and encouraged the mortals to breed their livestock, the gentle giants of the Quillats. Under Iternis’s watchful eye, a new creature was created by those humans, sleeker and faster, that the humans of the prairies soon began using in teams to pull chariots across the fertile lands.

In the mountains, Iternis watched as a young dwarf snuck through the blackest of nights, an egg the size of a child clutched in his arms. He would raise the Stonebird as his own until the day that he would ride it through the mountain side. The God of Journeys laughed as he saw that already there were Alminaki whooping in joy as they soared through the Blood Basin on the backs of the Desert Mantas.

In Mydia, Goblins and Night Elves alike rode on the backs of Baqualo, large hearty beasts that could traverse the land and sea with equal ease. On Kubrajzar, two siblings had already been tamed by the mortals there, large humped beings that wandered the dry places of the continent so Iternis just spread the Camel to all those who would sue it. In the highlands, Iternis showed the mortals the humble Yak and soon it too became a grand tool for journey.

Finally, Iternis goaded the bravest of mortals to leap into the vast rivers of Kubrajzar and wrestle with the enormous serpents, the Kubjran Eels. The great animals were fifteen feet long and traveled from the ocean, up the rivers, and over mountain tops to breed in the lake valleys of the Kubrajzar Mountains. Now they pulled the barges of mortals up and down the great rivers and along the coasts.

Iternis snapped back into himself, tired from spending so much time influencing Galbar. He smiled to himself, looking at all the mortals taking the images he had planted in their minds and watching them act on them. Soon, Galabr would seem so much smaller and their lives would see so much more.

Iternis chuckled to himself.

“Let them ride”




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A Noble Far From Home




Eighty-one pairs of feet trudged down the dirt road.

It was rare for Ketrefa to send a raiding party of this size out so far. But this was no usual raid. They needed miners. Experienced ones. So they needed to find a mining settlement, which tended to be better-armed and better-fortified than most humble farming villages. The Ketrefans knew of one such settlement, but it was far away: Thyma.

Lord Milos Karras had disliked the prospect of such a long journey. But he was the son of the Lord-Captain, Ketrefa's highest ranking military official; responsible for the coordination of raids and requisition parties, and tasked with leading the city's armies in times of war. Milos himself was destined to one day take up the position, and although it had effectively become hereditary over centuries of proven service, he still needed to prove himself nonetheless to guarantee that it would stay that way.

So he would arrive at Thyma, demand they allow him access to the village, seize the fittest workers from the population, and then requisition some food for the march back. If they resisted, he would have to enact some sort of reprisal. Resistance rarely occurred; the neighbouring tribes had learned long ago that it was easier to give in. There had been united attempts to break Ketrefa's power in the past, but each attempt had been crushed mercilessly. So it was often a simple matter of showing up in sufficient numbers and issuing a demand.

In truth, the nobleman found the practice distasteful. While the practice did ensure Ketrefan superiority - in launching regular raids into outside territories they not only kept their own population prosperous, but also kept the neighbouring settlements weak - the fact that the prosperity came at such blatant expense of other humans still came across as unseemly, at least to him. Yes, those born outside Ketrefan leadership were lesser men, but they were still men, which put them above the vile trolls, at the very least.

Part of him wondered if it was possible for these "lesser men" to become something greater. If instead of keeping them suppressed, they could help raise them up, and work together. But his father had warned him such ideas were naive. That if they tried to share their city's wealth with outsiders, the outsiders would simply take their wealth and leave them with nothing. But still, Milos wondered...

He shook the thoughts off. Even if he was right, he was just one man, and could not bring about such change on his own. He knew of no other nobles who shared these concerns. He was certain that at least a few had to, but they wouldn't dare speak of such matters in public, and therefore they were impossible to find.

He shifted his thoughts back to the task at hand. From what he knew of the terrain, they were maybe two or three days away from the next village: Morganstead. A small and pathetic thing, just on the edge of what Ketrefa considered to be viable raiding territory. Even then, it was an open secret the lords who were normally sent this way sometimes chose to ignore it, as its tribute rarely made a significant difference. Milos wasn't certain if it would have anything to offer even now, but it could perhaps be a valuable resting point on his way to Thyma.

After another hour of traveling, the village came within sight, and didn't seem to have grown any larger since the last time it was tapped for resources. The sun was low on the horizon. Milos decided he would not seize the homes of the villagers - setting up camp outside would suffice - but they would help themselves to what food was available, as this was a longer journey than usual.

Those in the fields and streets saw the host approach, and quickly fled into their hovels, shutting doors and windows. Only one man remained in the street - the village chieftain, who eyed the Ketrefan banner carried by one of Milos's men, and began approaching to speak with them.

"Hail, Ketrefan," the chieftain said, attempting to keep his tone respectful.

"You speak for these people, I assume?" Milos asked, casting his gaze at the buildings where he knew fearful inhabitants sheltered.

The chieftain nodded.

"What news do you have of the surrounding area?" Milos questioned, waving a hand to indicate the countryside.

"Thyma has been destroyed by a raid, my lord," the man said, bowing his head slightly. "There were no survivors."

Milos's air of confidence cracked slightly, as his eyebrows rose of their own volition. "Destroyed?" he asked, shocked. "When?"

The chieftain scratched his head. "A few days ago, I think? That's what the druids told us."

"And where are these druids?" Milos asked.

"Gone. They left yesterday."

Now, Milos frowned. An entire village, destroyed by a raid? No survivors? The only witnesses conveniently gone? "I will march to this village tomorrow," he said, his tone sharpening. "And if I find out you lied to me, I will see your village burn. Understand?"

The chieftain's eyes widened with fear. "Y-yes, my lord! It's the truth, I swear!"

Milos scrutinized him further, then decided he believed him, and cursed inwardly. The entire journey was for nothing. He might not have to return empty-handed - he could take slaves and tribute from the villages on the way back - but he had failed his main objective His father would be most displeased, regardless of the fact that it had not been his fault. The shame would not be constrained to his own family either - other houses coveted the position of Lord-Captain, and would seize any excuse to deem him unfit. This incident on its own might not be enough, but as his father always reminded him, even the most minor of failures would add up without a success to make people forget them.

"I would hope so," Milos nodded grimly. "In the meantime, my men will require food and supplies." He turned to address his men. "Gelo, take nine men and go search that farm. The rest of you, set up camp."

The lowborn warrior known as Gelo, a reliable retainer who served as his second-in-command on this mission, nodded, and quickly assembled a requisition party. The rest of the host unloaded gear from the quillats which carried their supplies, and began setting up bedrolls, tents, and cooking areas.

Milos watched Gelo kick in the door of a hovel, before entering with four warriors at his back, while five waited outside. Screams were heard from inside the building. Moments later, a middle-aged man, his wife, and their two daughters were dragged out, then forced to kneel on the grass. Of the four men who entered the house, Gelo assigned two to watch the family and two to search their home more thoroughly, while he led the remaining five toward the granary. All this had been done in less than a minute; there was no denying the man's efficiency. He quickly broke down the granary door, and then his men moved inside.

This time, it was Gelo's men who did the yelling.

Rallying a dozen men who stood nearby, Milos charged toward the granary. He arrived just in time to see Gelo and two men struggling to haul out a screaming, feral boy with half his face bandaged.

Another one of Gelos's men stumbled out soon after; he swayed like a drunkard and his helmet was dented. He staggered off to the side, doubled over, and vomited. The two remaining men followed soon after; one dragging the other, who was knocked out cold.

Gelo released his grip on the boy's feet, who began wildly kicking. The two other warriors, each holding an arm, were then able to pin him to the ground, after some difficulty. Milos was astonished at how many it took. "What happened?" he demanded as Gelo approached him, breathing heavily.

"That boy..." Gelo spoke incredulously. "He was waiting for us with a piece of wood. Got the drop on us. Somehow brought two of us down. Don't give me that look..." then he seemed to remember who he was speaking to, and his eyes widened. "F-forgive me, my lord! But that boy - he's not natural. He's stronger than any man I've ever fought."

Milos did not want to believe it, but somehow, after seeing how difficult it was for the two men to keep such a small boy pinned... he did.

Then the grim reality of what just happened finally set in. An outsider had attacked one of his men. At the very least, the expected response to such a transgression was to put the offender to death. The offender who, in this case, was a small boy that likely didn't understand the weight of the action. Milos winced internally, for it was a cruel punishment. But if he did nothing, and word got back to Ketrefa... he might be seen as weak. Sympathetic to the savages.

He could perhaps justify putting the boy's parents to death instead... but then the boy and his siblings would have no one to care for them, and if they survived might be even more likely to raise a hand against Ketrefan soldiers in the future. Perhaps the village chieftain might suffice instead? Tekret... Cadien... Evandra... what do I do? he thought quietly to himself.

As he wrestled with the cruel dilemma, a deep voice he had never heard before suddenly sounded inside his head.

No.

"What?" Milos asked, startled.

Gelo looked at him with confusion. "I didn't say anything, my lord."

"Resume your search!" Milos snapped. He looked to the dozen men behind him. "Back to the camp!" With a frown, Gelo bowed and went back to the task, while the men he had gathered to run to Gelo's aid withdrew. Milos himself, meanwhile, stood alone in his confusion.

Is this how low Tekret's favoured have fallen? the deep voice resumed with contempt. Now, before you butcher this entire village to find out who is saying this, know that none of them are responsible. For it is I. Cadien.

"C-Cadien?" Milos whispered hoarsely, falling to his knees.

The child before you is of my blood. You will not harm him, or those who protected him. You will not go to Thyma, and you will not loot this village. Tomorrow, you will turn back and march home. And if I see you do otherwise, I will see your city burn. Understood?

The revelation issued in tandem with the threat made Milos pale in terror. "F-forgive me, your holiness," he whispered desperately. "I... I did not mean... I did not know..."

Silence. I can see your most deepest thoughts, and I know your true feelings. Hmm... perhaps you and your city may not yet be beyond redemption, the God mused. You will take this child back with you, you will take him into your household, and you will raise him as if he were your own son. And you will keep this conversation to yourself, he commanded.

"But... what of my father? He will not-"

Your father is dead, Cadien cut him off.

That news felt like a kick to the chest. He had never been particularly fond of his father, but still... to lose him so suddenly, to be told like this... and then there were the responsibilities he was meant to inherit. He was the head of House Karras now. And now the Lord-Captain of the army, if he could somehow attain the position - yet alone retain his nobility - after what he was now required to do. "I... I understand, your Holiness..." he whispered.

Good. See it done, the God of Perfection commanded sternly.

The young lord took a deep breath, and rose to his feet. He looked to his men who held the boy in place, and to his surprise, the child stopped struggling. Instead, the boy looked up from him with a gaze that was surprisingly free of hatred or fear. Milos wondered if the God of Perfection had spoken to the child too.

"Release him," he commanded.







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Carn




Carn had awoken in the night, on a pile of furs outside the ruins of his destroyed village. Over a dozen villagers sat near a fire. Some cried, while others bore grim expressions. All bore burns, cuts, or some other sort of injury, and all were filthy.

The boy sat up, and one of the villagers noticed the movement. “Thank Cadien,” he whispered, rushing over to him. Carn opened his mouth to speak, but immediately fell into a fit of coughing. “Easy, boy, you breathed too much smoke.”

“Where is my brother? And my sisters?” Carn managed to rasp between coughs.

A few others had circled around, and somehow their expressions became even grimmer. “We don’t know…” the man said softly. “We didn’t find their bodies, though.”

“Brundt lives,” Carn whispered. “We need to find him.”

“He does?” the man’s eyes widened. “Which way did he go?”

“I…” Carn said, looking around. “I… I don’t remember…” tears began to form in his eyes. Why couldn’t he remember something so important?

The man frowned. “We’ll have to send a man out in every direction to look for him, then,” he said. “Most of us will stay here, in case he finds his way back. Besides…” he looked back toward the bodies piled outside the gate. “The dead need to be tended to.”



That was two days ago. They never found Brundt.

A mass grave had been dug for the dead, using shovels taken from the mine. Even the fallen marauders had been buried as well; to leave them as they were was to invite disease and predators. From time to time a survivor of the massacre would return, having fled into the woods during the attack. None of the others begrudged them; none of those present had survived by being brave.

Food was not much of an issue; numerous cellars were still intact, so it was simply a matter of digging through the wreckage, and two of the survivors had hunting experience. Makeshift shelters had been built against the elements. But the mood around the camp remained hopeless. They had lost everything, and would likely never see this village rebuilt within their lifetime. Even if they did, they could not replace lost friends, families, or lovers.

What now?

The sounds of snapping twigs alerted the campers to the presence of outsiders. Before they could react, a voice like warm milk sounded from around a burnt building corner. “Gods’ peace upon you, my children.” From around the corner came the two white-robed druids, the old, bearded man and his younger female companion. “Do not be frightened. We come to aid those in need - for you are the survivors, I take it?”

The man who led them rose to his feet, brushing a strand of dark hair out of his eyes. “That we are,” he nodded. “The ones who managed to flee, or weren’t cooked alive in their hiding places.” Seated on a nearby rock, Carn eyed the newcomers with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.

“I see. A terrible tragedy struck you, yet it is fortunate to see that there were survivors. We rescued a young boy some ways north not three days past.” The old man raised a brow at the purple-eyed teen with the white hair sitting on a rock. “... He told us none had survived.”

Carn’s eyes widened, while the leader’s eyes narrowed. “What did this boy look like? What was his name? Where is he now?” he demanded in an inquisitive tone.

“His face and eyes were similar to yours, but his hair was brown. I would say he hadn’t even reached ten years of age yet. His name is Brundt,” the old man nodded for his colleague to start examining the wounded, “and we brought him to Morganstead to the north. He’s safe there.”

Relief flashed across many faces, Carn’s especially. “Thank Cadien,” breathed the leader, before his expression once more hardened with resolve as he fixed his gaze on the druid. “We will head to this village immediately. That boy is the youngest son of Cadien’s champion. We must ensure his safety.”

The druids exchanged frowns, but the oldest eventually nodded in understanding. “Very well. The road posed little threat to us, but it rarely does, thank the gods. Allow us to care for the wounded you leave behind, at least, so they suffer no further injury by following along. Such is the will of the Sun, after all.”

The leader paused, looking slightly embarrassed, as he quickly surveyed the people around the fire.

“He’s right, Yorn,” one woman spoke up. “Some of us are still in no condition to move.”

Yorn frowned. “That’s true,” he looked back to the druid. “We’re not leaving anyone behind. We’ll wait until tomorrow.”

Carn leapt to his feet. “But-” he began to protest, before suddenly coughing, “-but my brother!”

“Your brother is in good hands. I have met with the chief of Morganstead before, and he’s a righteous and godsfearing man. Allow Gibbou to grant you another night of peace before you set out on such a journey.” With that, the old man went to assist his companion with tending to a young man’s broken leg.

Carn didn’t seem satisfied by that explanation, until Yorn put a hand on his shoulder. “The Druid is right, Carn,” he said softly. “Your father knew Morganstead’s chief well. Your brother should be safe there. But our wounded will not be safe if we leave them behind to go find him. Most of us are in no state to go travelling through the night anyway. What would your father do?”

The mention of his father brought fresh tears to the boy’s eyes. “I… I…” he cast his gaze downward. “I miss him,” he whispered softly.

Yorn nodded. “We all do. So we should honour his memory by acting as he would. He had always intended for you to lead us one day, and that may yet be true, so you must remember his example. Understand.”

Carn sniffed, then somehow managed to raise his gaze to look Yorn in the eye. “I... I will.”

For the rest of the day, the druids went from survivor to survivor to tend to wounds and medicine the sick. For burns, they applied the same ointments as they had given Brundt, but they used no magic to dull the pain this time, causing a great many burn victims to howl in pain as the most charred skin was cut or scraped off with perhaps a little dull flint sickles, and the inflamed skin was heavily doused in ointments and salves, finalised with sore bandages. There was one among the survivors whose right leg had been left untreated long enough to become gangrenous, and Kaer Mirh and Kaer Anni had been forced to hack it off with an axe. Not even this one was given the respite of Gibbou, but she passed out from the pain on their own. In place of some form of tourniquet, Kaer Anni turned her tree branch staff into roots that squeezed the leg so hard, she fractured it. However, thanks to that, the woman didn’t bleed out as they severed her leg above the knee-cap.

Several of the survivors winced with sympathy at this, while one had even risen to his feet as if moving to stop it - only for another to hold him back, assuring him that the druids probably knew what they were doing. Even after the sun went down, the screams and grunts of those being treated kept the rest of the group awake.

But eventually, all had been treated, so they could assign lookouts and at last find some sleep.

The druids washed their hands in a nearby beck and Kaer Anni headed to a nearby grove of trees to pick nuts, acorns and pine cones, which she then proceeded to plant in the nearby soil. Kaer Mirh, meanwhile, walked up to the old mine shaft and started stacking stones into a small heap.

A few moments later, Carn came up behind him. “What are you doing?”

Kaer Mirh turned to the lad and smiled. “I am building a monument to Boris, the mountain god.” He placed another stone on the heap, tested the heap’s integrity and then bolstered the foundation upon finding it lacking.

“Boris?” Carn questioned. “Why?”

The druid reached to the ground and took a handful of sand. He then started filling in the holes in his heap as best he could. “Am I the first druid you’ve met, my son?”

“Another druid came to our village, a long time ago,” Carn said, after some thought. “I don’t remember much about her, though.”

Kaer Mirh nodded. “I see. Well, let me tell you, then. I am building this altar to Boris because I am indebted to him. His glorious spirit granted me power last week - a great deal of power - and for this, I must regain my favour with him before I ask for more. It is only fair, considering how much help he has offered someone as insignificant as myself.” He nodded in the direction of Kaer Anni, who was busily digging holes for more seeds. “My kinswoman Kaer Anni, meanwhile, has a debt to the World Tree, also known as the Tree of Genesis. Have you heard about it?”

Carn shook his head.

“I thought not. It’s not a god us northerners know well, as a group. It’s the god of all plants, from the tallest tree to the smallest weed. Its presence is stronger in the south, where the trees grow tall and thick, and the rain is heavy and warm.” He chuckled. “Not many in my circle have seen its body with their own eyes, but this old fool? Oh, he has, he has.”

“Where are you from?” Carn found himself asking.

This question silenced the druid’s chuckle, and his eyes suddenly stared far beyond Carn, or anything for that matter. They then blinked down at Carn again and Kaer Mirh offered a single snicker. “Somewhere far, far away from here, my son.” He nodded back at his little heap. “Would you like to help out? The mountain god is certain to offer you some favour too, if you work for it.”

Carn looked to the pile, then scanned the ground for a rock. When he set his eyes on one, he picked it up and carried it over.

Once the druids had done their duties and made certain no one else was in dire need of aid, they approached the leader of the band, Kaer Mirh gesturing northwards. “I hope the route remains safe for you when you walk it. We saw nothing dangerous on the way, but you never know in these times.”

“We’ll pray for you to have a tranquil and peaceful journey,” Kaer Anni offered and bowed curtly. Kaer Mirh repeated her action.

“Thank you for your help,” Yorn nodded gratefully, though those who had suffered the most under the druid’s treatment appeared resentful. “But will you not be joining us?”

The druids each raised a flat palm. “Sadly not. We’ve decided to travel further down south, now that we’re here. It’s been a few years since I personally visited this region, and Kaer Anni here has to stock up on remedies which plants cannot be found much further north than, well, these parts. However, we will be travelling north again soon, however, so perhaps our paths with cross again?”

“Perhaps,” Yorn nodded. “I don’t know where we will go after we find Brundt, but… we’ll find a way to survive.”

“I’ve heard Morganstead needs additional farmhands. When in dire need, my son, reach out to your neighbours. Perhaps they will take you in like they took in Brundt?” With that, the two of them turned and started walking away. “May the gods give you their most gracious blessings!”

The survivors of Thyma watched their departure in silence.



Two days later, they arrived at the village of Morganstead. The man who had his leg amputated was carried on a makeshift stretcher, while the worst of the other wounded were helped by their comrades. Others simply had to limp and endure the pain.

As they walked into the village, the chieftain approached them and sighed. Two warriors flanked him on both sides. “What brings you here, outsiders?”

“We’re from Thyma,” Yorn said, as if that would explain everything.

“Oh,” the chieftain said. “Forgive me. I was told that none survived.”

“Where is my brother?” Carn interrupted, stepping forward. “Where is Brundt?”

The chieftain stared at the white haired boy, and realization dawned. “Oh, by the gods…” he whispered in horror. “I didn’t think…”

“We were told that he was here,” Yorn snapped. “Where is he?”

“I-I’m sorry,” the chieftain said. “Warriors arrived from Ketrefa the day after the druids left. They took him. You… you can see the remains of their camp over there.”

Yorn looked around suspiciously. “The rest of your village seems unharmed.” He stepped forward, and his hand fell to an axe at his belt. “Did they take him, or did you give him up?” The chieftain’s guard levelled their spears in response, which in turn led each Thyman to place their hand on a weapon.

“Enough!” the chieftain barked, causing his guards to point their spears back up, while some of the survivors from Thyma relaxed. Some, but not all. “This village has seen enough trouble as is. I’ll not have any blood spilled within it!” he scolded, both to his guards and the visitors. Then he fixed his gaze on Yorn. “We didn’t give the boy up. The Ketrefans were bound for your village. When they found out it was destroyed, they took him and left the next day. There was nothing we could have done.”

“You could have fought them!” Carn yelled, finding his voice as he stepped forward.

“If we fought them, we all would have died,” the chieftain stated bluntly.

“My father stayed and fought! He was outnumbered, but he fought so we could get away!” Carn argued defiantly. Yorn began approaching, intending to pull the boy back.

“Your father died, boy,” the chieftain told him, “and the rest of his village didn’t fare any better. Forgive me. He was a good man, but we can’t just-”

He never got to finish. A primal rage welled up in Carn’s chest, and suddenly the boy seized a knife from the chieftain’s belt and rammed it into the man’s gut.

The village exploded into chaos after that. Bystanders screamed and yelled. One of the guards caught the chieftain as he fell, the blade still embedded in his gut. The other guard stared in astonishment and then, after recovering from his shock, thrust his spear toward Carn. But Yorn stepped between the two, deflecting the spear point with his axe. Seeing the fight break out, the survivors drew their weapons - spears, axes, picks, and swords.

The back of Yorn’s axe smashed across the guard’s face, knocking him out, while the other guard attempted to drag the chieftain to safety. Yorn let him go. “Stupid boy!” Yorn hissed, seizing Carn by the neck and pulling him back to the main group.

The villagers of Morganstead emerged from their homes carrying weapons of their own. Most had not seen what happened; only that their chieftain had been stabbed and one of his guards was down. They would not stand a chance against eighty disciplined troops from Ketrefa, but this ragtag and injured band? They could manage.

With weapons in hand, Morganstead’s residents charged who they believed to be their attackers. They came from all sides, in bits and pieces; there was no unity, and no discipline. Yorn buried his axe into an attacker’s chest. Carn watched a Thyman fall nearby, the killer moving on to another, only to take a spear in the ribs.

The villagers of Morganstead drew back; five of theirs dead in exchange for three of Thyma’s. But they were not done - they began forming up around their dying chieftain, finally realizing that they could drive their attackers back with the advantage of numbers.

“Run!” Yorn shouted, and the survivors ran, Carn among them. The man who had his leg amputated had to be left behind. They fled toward the treeline, and the villagers of Morganstead gave pursuit. Fortunately, Yorn’s group had enough of a headstart to safely make it to the brush. Even then, they continued running. A few were lost - either they broke off to flee on their own, or they tripped over roots and rocks.

Eventually they made it a safe distance from the village. Then, Yorn seized Carn by the shoulders and shoved him against a nearby tree. “Stupid boy!” the older man repeated, backhanding him sharply across the face.

Carn tasted blood in his mouth. He struggled under Yorn’s grip, then spat out a tooth. “They lost my brother!” he cried.

“Killing their chieftain won’t bring your brother back,” Yorn repeated. “You’re a bloody murderer, now. You’ve disgraced your father’s memory, got good men killed, and brought shame to the rest of us!”

Carn looked to the rest of his people, hoping someone would intervene. But nobody had any sympathy.

Yorn pulled him away from the tree and turned him away from the group. “Go,” the man said. “We can’t have you around anymore. Word will get out that you killed that chieftain, and nobody will welcome us anymore. By our own laws you should die, but we’ll let you live out of respect for your father.” He gave him a shove. “Go!”

Carn went, breaking off into a run. Tears stung his eyes and anger filled his chest as he thought of the unfairness of it all.






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Gibbou



Gibbou strolled triumphantly across the surface of her moon, looking giddily down at the planet below. As she had foreseen, the appearance of vampires had immensely reduced the number of people who killed their superiors and family for ambition. Her plan had succeeded. To celebrate, she conjured forth a fancy glass with a blue drink, which immediately froze. With a pout, she thawed it again and drank it as quickly as she could before it froze, gagging at the overwhelming presence of blue curaçao. A short moment passed, and then she made herself another.

Before long, the goddess was skipping across the moon, giggly, giddy and about as wasted as the satellite's surface. Maybe she finally had done it? The Circles, the vampires… Maybe the tides were turning for little Gibbou? Maybe Neiya’s poisonous words could finally leave her - Cadien’s statue, finally disappear? Maybe… Maybe she could finally be as good and amazing as her beloved sister?

A distant whisper made her lose her balance and faceplant into the rocky soil. She groggily forced herself back up, her sloppy hands somehow not managing to grab the ground properly. With a push that sent her five metres into the not-air, she managed to coerce her clumsy legs into a sitting stance and her eyes into a resemblance of a focused stare. She dove deep, deep inside her rum-sozzled brain, pulling forth the faint flicker of a voice that had tried to contact her. It was a prayer - a small child whose language sounded Lapite. Gibbou pulled at her nose and tried to make herself somewhat presentable before listening in once again. With messy hair, restless feet and a head that just couldn’t seem to stay still, she focused.

“Dear Yuemu...” The voice was crying, and Gibbou’s emotional centre and attention span were battling gruesome battle in the deep, unforgiving swamp that was her inebriated mind. “... A… A monster has been attacking us in the night. More and more people are disappearing, and, and, and… I’m so scared. I can’t sleep even if I want to. What if it gets us like the others? What, what if I’m next?”

This puzzled Gibbou, or at least she looked puzzled. Squinting eyes and pursed lips overtook her expression, and the goddess ran a hand over her chin. ”Mhm, mhm… I, uh-duh… I, I shee,” she mumbled to none in particular, and hopefully not to the frightened little girl back on Galbar. After what felt like an eternity, her senses conjured forth a proper response. ”Yuh-your mind ish unwell, my ssshild. Here, lemme help you.”

With a clumsy wave of her hand, she cast something (she wasn’t quite sure herself, even), and the sound of a slow sigh came from the other end. She summoned forth a moon dust mirage of the other side and saw the child soundly asleep next to her parents, who also appeared to be resting peacefully. When she expanded the mirage, she saw that that whole part of the warren that the child lived in had suddenly fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep - even the guards. Satisfied, she made herself another drink and blew the image away, just as a shadowed figured entered the view from a corner. After downing her drink, her eyes suddenly picked up a very peculiar fish east of Toraan. She focused her hazy eyes, and her heart skipping four beats. Immediately, she poured all her might into establishing a mental link with this individual, just as it was washing ashore on the Kylsar Isles.

”Hic! … Hey...”

”No,” answered Twilight on the other side, busily pulling seaweed out of his sandals.

”Boo, you suck,” moaned Gibbou disapprovingly. ”Enter--... Urrp… Entertain me.”

Twilight sighed. ”Isn’t part of being a goddess that you can do anything? Gibbou shrunk. ”Including making a playmate?”

”Nnnnnnno!” exclaimed Gibbou and nearly rolled backwards onto her back. Twilight winced at the background noise as the moon goddess got back up. ”I wan’ ssshat wishoo.”

Twilight placed a seawater-smelling palm in his face. ”Look, Gibs, could you not do this right now? I mean, I just made landfall, I’m tired--

”Ooo! Whashu, urp, doon? Tsell me, cuh-maaawn!” A moment passed. ”C’MAAAAAWN!

Twilight looked up and sighed from the bottom of his lungs. ”Y’know… Being doing stuff?”

”Kinda staff?”

”Stuff! Like, uhm… I met this troll-guy. He was… Really nice, actually. Kinda miss him. Tidemand was his name. Yeah… Him and Oscar sure are some sweet guys.” There was silence, during which Twilight hesitated to test whether the link was still open. Eventually, however, he said, ”Gibbou?”.

”MY TROLLSH AIN’T ALL BAAAAAAAD!” came a long, tearful scream followed by a sulking, guttural ”uuuuuuuuuuu-huuu-huuu!” Twilight felt a compulsive need to pat her politely on the back, but said nothing until the moon goddess eventually continued, ”Oo-hoo… Shanksh, Twi, hic! It helpsh that--... Ugh… That you tsell me theesh shings…”

”You’re-... Ahem, you’re welcome, Gibs. For a while, there was only sobbing and sulking on the other side. However, suddenly, something rustled in the bushes nearby. Twilight’s eyes focused on the spot with lightning quick accuracy, and he knelt down slight. ”Gibbou, listen, I know you’re sad, but--”

”You’re shad!” she accused back.

”Look, I can’t do this right now, Gibs, I can’t hear myself think with all your--” Then, out of the bushes came two cloaked and masked humanoids, each armed with bone spears. Immediately, one of them lunged at Twilight and shouted, “Bad luck, kid! Fork over the belongings and run, or we’ll take ‘em and leave you to rot in the swamp!” The avatar dodged away, only for another spear to appear from behind him and graze his hip as not even his godlike reflexes could properly avoid it. ”Crap, bandits!”

”Whashat?” Gibbou droned.

”Gibs, would, would you just shut up for a-- phew! -- for a moment?!” Twilight cursed back as he narrowly ducked out of the way of another spear attack, barely dancing away from yet another one. The three tried constantly to surround him, and while the avatar made it hard, three deftly stabbing spears was no easy foe to avoid. There came a sniff from the other side.

”You’re alwaysh sho mean to meeee…”

”I swear, if you start crying again-- hup!”

“Who’re you talking to, boy?! We’re the only ones here! Yargh!” One of the bandits jumped forward, adding some extra length to his thrust. The blow grazed Twilight’s arm, ripping through the fabric of his shirt. Twilight grit his teeth.

”Gibbou, are you gonna help, by sunlight?!”

”Oh, I’m sh-shorry! I thought you werr part godz! Can’t you, like, mayke stuff or shomshin’?” The pout on Gibbou’s face was audible.

”I can’t-- ugh! -- focus like this! Help me!”

There came a long sigh. ”Uuuugh! Fiiiiine!” There came a flash in the sky above, breaking through the clouds and crashing into Twilight’s hand like a lightning bolt. The three assailants stopped in awe and confusion as the avatar suddenly held a scabbarded blade, curved ever so slightly backwards to resemble somewhat a softer curve of the moon. Twilight blinked, and then a widening grin formed on his lips. The assailants blinked amongst themselves (not that that was possible to see through their masks) and slowly began to back off. Twilight’s grin turned to a malicious smirk as he unsheathed the sword, its blade a cold, white shade of steel; its edge, an ashen sheen that stood out in the night’s darkness. He weighed the sword in his hand, testing its balance.

”Now… -This- is a weapon. Thanks, Gibbou. At least you can do something right.”

”At leash you can do something right, bleh, bleh, bleh…” The bandits staggered backwards as Twilight approached.

”You thought you could pounce on me so easily? Heh… Well…” The bandits all tripped backwards and huddled together in sheer terror. Twilight snickered. ”You’ll be feeling it now… The wrath of myself, Twilight, and my trusty companion…” He paused to think of a name, looking upwards with a respectful nod. “... Tsukigami-no-Kokoro.”

From the other side of the mind-link, he heard Gibbou burst into laughter, which kind of ruined the moment for him, but at least the bandits couldn’t hear it. He approached the one who had taunted him to earlier and lifted the sword high above his head, the bandit’s companions crying for mercy for their boss. Twilight rolled his eyes. ”Mercy… Like the kind you wanted to show me?” He spat. ”Mercy’s too good for the likes of you.” Locking eyes with the leader, he said, ”... Tell the king of the underworld… Twilight sent ya.” Then he hacked his blade downwards.

DUNK!

“Ow!” shouted the leader and immediately brought his hands to the growing bump on his head. Twilight’s eyes widened in surprise and puzzlement, as did all the others’. Twilight immediately turned around and looked up to the sky. ”GIBBOU!”

”Hm? Wha?”

Twilight shook the sword around. ”What the hell is this?!”

”Why, it’sh the shword that you named Tsookeegahmee no--... Pfffahahahahaha! Ican’believeyounameditthaaat! Hahaha!”

Twilight tossed the sheath into the ground so hard it caused sand to splatter everyone around. Another audible pout. ”Hey, I made dat!”

”What the hell kinda sword -is- it, though?!”

”It can cut through anyshing when the moon shines on it! It’sh super-strong, y’know!”

”When the moon is out?! Gibbou - it’s OVERCAST!”

There was a long pause. Then Gibbou exploded into a snorting laughter once more. The bandits seized the opportunity to run and Twilight sat himself down in the sand with his face in his hands, suffering the taunting guffaw of his superior. ”Hoooo-hooo! Ican’tbreathe! I’mgonnapee!” came a few words wheezingly from the other side.

”Just leave me alone,” Twilight pleaded in embarrassment.

”Hehehehehehe, noway, thish is too good, oh, sister.” There was a long suction of breath, followed by an equally long side. ”Holy sunlight...”

”If my divine powers are good for anything, then please let them help me block you out of my head…”

”Oh, now you’re mean again, boo...” Gibbou moaned. ”Fine, I’m going… But not because you toldz me too! Hmph!” With that, the presence in his mind disappeared. Twilight sat there on the beach in shame, Tsukigami-no-Kokoro sheathed across his lap. He sat there, for a very long time.




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