Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Unexpected Company


The rain was falling hard. She'd just been out in the thick of it, but here there seemed to be some relief. The driving downpour died down to a patter under the stand of dense trees she sheltered in. Listening to the storm, feeling the soft drops falling from canopy’s leaves, it was enough to make her reflect on things, her situation, and consider that if she was going to die, this wasn’t the worst place. At the thought she looked down.

The wound was still there. It didn’t look worse, but she'd noticed her vision blurring. She leaned against a tree, and before she knew it she was sitting down, not even minding the damp moss around the trunk soaking her pants further. By now, she imagined it didn’t matter. Her head lolled to the side, so she could see the trail she’d left.

Blood. It was being washed away, even here under the trees, but it was there. It would have led the thing to her. To this place, where it was already pooling around her. She should have been more worried about that but, well, she wasn’t worried about much right now. The pain was nothing but a dull afterthought, even though the beast had claimed a solid chunk of her thigh. She was too cold to feel it much. To feel anything much. To think, too much.

The storm had chilled her, but not like this. It hadn’t left her without the energy to shiver. She didn’t want to die. She wanted to cry out, pray, or even just cry. It was too late, though. It wouldn’t be much longer now. There wasn’t a thing in existence watching her now, except for that which was likely to eat her when she drifted off.

Her eyes fluttered, and for a second a wave of panic took her. She didn’t want to die. Again though, it was too late. Even the fear faded. She felt herself fade with it. She’d started to notice, now, that there was something there, in the space between life and death. She felt a pull, a knowing tug, towards something new, something else. She just had to let go.

She didn’t want to. How long had she been here now? It felt like a lifetime. Longer. Why was she so afraid? She’d been here so long, now. Maybe it was time to go. Maybe it would be better if she stopped fighting-

“Mmm, no, I don’t think so.”

She blinked, and even the effort of that weighed on her. Was she losing track of her own thoughts? It made sense. It had to be that-

“No, not that either. And don’t go guessing, please, you’re hardly in a state for it. You’re dying, you know?”

That was obvious.

“Well, no need to be rude. It’s not like you are going to die.”

She wasn’t? That didn’t make sense. She wasn’t just dying, she could feel it, something had happened. Oh. She wasn’t breathing. She was dead.

“Not quite, but I did need to wait until now to, ah, there we are.”

She felt the pull vanish, and something replace it. A warmth. A closeness. Without thinking to do so she heaved a massive breath, and then collapsed coughing. She was alive? That was, that wasn’t possible. The woman felt at her leg, at the gaping chunk of flesh she’d lost, and found only a long jagged scar. As if her flesh had been returned to her, and fused to what remained. The voice spoke again.

“Not precisely, but close enough. You’ll never learn if you don't have something to remember these things by, you know? Now, Amerra, would you care to guess what I am? Am I the madness that’s been festering in your mind, after all these years alone?”

Amerra felt at her leg with wonder, and she looked everywhere, up, down, all around her. She saw nothing. Heard only the rain. She swallowed hard, throat dry from the experience of dying, “Are you a Skywalker? One of the creators?”

“Yes, and no!” The voice was cheerful as it explained, “You see Amerra, there was a time before the Skywalkers existed. Well, most of them in any case. Just as your people are born, so were they! Albeit, under somewhat less messy circumstances. So, as it happens, I am a Skywalker! But, as I've just been born I can’t profess to be your or anyone's creator.”

That was beyond impossible. It was a blasphemy of the highest order. The Skywalkers had always been, from the very start, they had watched her people forever! Nevertheless, what was there to say against the truth of her own eyes? Amerra tried to speak a question, tried to say anything at all, but the shock muted her.

The voice didn’t seem to mind, “A good point there, blasphemy is it? Funny, how the others are so loathe to share. Well then, best keep this between you, me, and the family then.”

The family? Her father was a priest of Avend-

“Not yours, obviously.” The voice interrupted, “I mean our family Amerra. The ones who risk everything, just to see more than anyone else. Your brothers and sisters. My Explorers.”

Ah. So that was the Skywalker that had found her. Or maybe the one that had just been born here. Amerra didn’t care, she was alive. Better than alive, the longer the voice spoke the stronger she felt, the clearer her vision became. Soon she could hear the croaking of frogs in the rain, the rustling of leaves above as winds whipped the forest’s cap. She asked the question, “What did you do to me?”

“Pull you back from death?” The voice joked, “Or do you mean, the rest of it? Nothing bad, I assure you, but I won’t be spoiling the surprise.”

The voice paused, and Amerra heard the crunch of a heavy footfall from just beyond the trees. When it spoke again, it was with some urgency, “And it seems we have a guest. One you expected, if I recall. Try not to die?”

It was unceremonious, but it was all she needed to hear to know the Skywalker had gone from this place. The warmth faded, but she felt the forest all around her. Saw the world through the trees.

This time, she wouldn’t get caught.


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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Legion02
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Legion02

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Qael’Naath
&
Cadien

It was a disaster. Qael’Naath had lost the synchronicity with his realm. Some glades floated in opposite orbits. Some clashed, either molding together or shattering apart. Leaving nothing but a nebulous, glittering cloud. Some of the gardens were tilted upside down. Sometimes together with their gravity. To those with a limited mind, it would look like chaos. The antithesis of the god of Magic. It wasn’t. At the center, Qael’Naath was working hard. Observing every alignment and equinoctial point with his central, blue sun. It conveyed meaning and understanding. In the past, they would’ve served as signals for Qael to enact the next phase of his designs. Now they were holdfasts. Points of recognition, so he may discern the new design. The new design his own subconscious had made, in response to the revelation of his daughters. Even though this seemingly disorderly situation was made by his own mind, he could not access its greater meaning. No, he had to find the patterns.

He moved through his realm. Two eyes were open and affixed upon his plane. To observe everything from every possible point of view. Two more eyes were closed. That part of his consciousness was ruminating over memories that weren’t his. But he could see their faces and learn their names: Auriëlle and Soleira. His daughters. Sadly, those memories were chained to another. His final two eyes were shimmering. Through his avatar he was still observing all the spells form in the mana streams. Gauging the world’s magical advances. He had to actively fight a new strange sensation as well. A sensation that wanted him to speed off towards either of his children. The new plan had clearly added them to itself as well. One glade was barren and scorching hot. There was only sand, stone and harsh, punishing winds upon it. Its sole, defining feature was the black obelisk standing at the center of it. Another garden was lush and full of life. It was a complete and faithful recreation of Soleira’s cave.

His mind was too divided though. Oftentimes he found himself just floating through his own realm. Motionless. Having forgotten to move or indeed, pay any attention to his physical body. Only his senses really mattered now. Several times he floated through his own portal and fell into Antiquity. Looking dazed and surprised before he got up and jumped back into his realm to continue the tasks at hand.

Then, he could sense a visitor arriving, as Cadien stepped through the portal. “Oh dear,” the God of Perfection said, clad in his golden armour. “What’s going on here?”

“A catastrophe.” An upside down floating Qael’Naath said. It almost felt like he had just been drowning and the presence of Cadien made him realize that there really was such a thing as breathing. His mind emerged from the depths of his own thoughts, memories and the senses of the Winds on Galbar to peer at Cadien. “It’s a cataclysmic, apocalyptic calamity Cadien. I might not overstate it when I say that I have made two grave and ruinous errors. Look what it has done to my realm!” He exclaimed as he gestured to everything behind him, the perceived chaos.

“What sort of errors?” Cadien asked, inclining his head slightly.

“Children, Cadien! Sapient offspring!” He said as he turned around. As on cue, both the sandstorm torn glade symbolling Auriëlle passed nearby. And then the floating island filled with light and life signifying Soleira passed as well. “Well… not really children. The closest thing I should ever have. Singular mortals given a seed of my power that will sprout within them. You cannot imagine my dread right now, brother. Galbar is not ready. The designs weren’t ready.” For a moment he paused as he tried to calm down slightly. “I am not ready.” He said with a crushing sense of resignation. “They weren’t supposed to be created for another millennia or so. Instead, somehow, an inkling of my power fled me. Not once but twice.”

“Children?” Cadien blinked. “Oh, you mean like that Auriëlle girl?”

Qael, once more, turned an unhealthy shade of blue as he turned around to face his brother. “You know of her!?”

“I do,” Cadien nodded. “For quite some time, actually. I have children of my own, you see. Well, technically they’re my avatar’s. There’s four of them - wait, no, it’s six now. Anyhow, she met one of them.”

For a moment Qael wasn’t sure if he was relieved or horrified. In the end, his obsession won it from both. “You must tell me everything you know, Cadien. I beg of you! Who is she? How is she? W-Why is she talking to one of yours? What is happening in her life?”

Cadien blinked. “Friend, please calm down,” he spoke in a reassuring tone. “She comes from Acadia. Ran from home around the same time you gave them that training site. Her mother wouldn’t stop praying for her return. Some time later, she met my eldest, a man by the name of Carn. She helped him fight some bandits, but then she lured him away from the path I had in mind for him. Rather irritating, that.”

“Anyhow, they spent about three years travelling the Highlands. They started a mercenary band and grew uh… quite fond of each other. Then she left him, to go find out more about her connection to you. He was quite distraught. Now, I don’t know what she found - if she found anything, that is - but last I heard she was serving some vampire queen in the southern Highlands,” he spoke the word ‘vampire’ with clear disgust. “I’ve been listening to prayers from that kingdom - Nallan, it’s called - and there’s something not quite right about the people there.”

“The obelisk.” Qael said. Of course, that’s the reason why it was on her glade. He felt a void growing in his chest. Normally he would not have cared at all for a vampire queen. What else could she be but a small pawn in the grand designs. Yet now he did care. Vampires were amongst the more dangerous of mortals. If this Auriëlle was serving it, she was amongst the wrong people. His panic turned into cold but calm despair. “What do I do now?” What was there even to do? “She came looking for me and I never answered her. What could I possibly still do?”

Cadien shrugged. “When I guide my own children, I tend to do so indirectly, and only speak to them personally in exceptional circumstances. Sometimes, they have carried out my will without even realizing it. So, if you’re concerned for this Auriëlle, but you don’t believe she will welcome your aid or guidance, then try to offer it without making it clear that it’s you. But first, spend some time observing her. Learn her habits, her opinions, her prejudices. Her strengths, and her weaknesses. If you try to guide her without knowing her, then she might not react the way you expect.”

“That would require me to know where to guide her towards.” Qael’Naath said. Deep down though, he knew what direction she should be taking. If only he didn’t feel this strange, almost vile, mortal need to protect her. Like how mothers will protect their cubs. He knew he couldn’t do that. Not with Auriëlle. The truth was that in his grand design, she already had her place. He just had to admit it.

“She’s not the least of my problems though.” He then continued. “Soleira. Oh sweet Soleira. My four winged angel. She loves all, Cadien. You cannot imagine it. Such love. She wouldn’t dare hurt a fly. They will hurt her. Galbar can be a cruel place. They will harm her and scar her.” A strange new fire rose up in Qael’s chest. Even though he couldn’t talk to her “I might do as you say. Watch her. Observe her. Try to-“ Yet he had no idea what to do with her. The presence of her glade assured him she was part of the plan though. “-protect her.” He added when he found the appropriate word. The thought gained resolve though.

“They’re your children,” said Cadien. “It is up to you what you use them for. My own children, I’m trying to get to stabilize the Highlands. A difficult task, all things considered. Carn is preparing to take Ketrefa, but fixing Ketrefa is just the first step. There’s Nallan in the south, Ha-Duna in the west, the Iskrill in the north, trolls and vampires everywhere… and who knows what else?” He shook his head. “The other gods and their meddling…”

Qael’s focus shifted. “I know what you mean. Though sometimes their meddling is what makes Galbar such an interesting place.” Then his mind went to the Highlands. It was such a small region. Yet it had seen an almost unfair share of attention from all the gods now. Even though he did not share Cadien’s distaste for all things Iskrill, troll or vampire, even he had to admit that things were slipping in that land. “But the Highlands require attention. It’s a staggering task, brother. So what’s your plan? Beyond this Carn taking the city of Ketrefa?”

If he takes it,” Cadien corrected. “But I have a plan in place should he fail. Either way, what I do next will depend on what state the city and the surrounding regions are in.”

“Why not simply make sure that he succeeds?” Qael asked.

“I have given a great deal of aid, but the act must still require some effort and skill on his part. It must appear as if a mortal has solved a mortal problem. Otherwise, they will learn nothing from the incident, and may try to revert back to their old ways at a later date. If I simply forced them to change, then they would do it only because I demand it, not because they understand why.”

“I see. Well, it would seem I will have to keep my eye out for Ketrefa then.” Qael said, before two of his eyes glimmered again. “Forgive me brother. My duty demands my attention. I must leave you. But I am grateful for the information you have brought me about my daughter. Know that I owe you a favor.” With those words, and a small bow, Qael flew up again. Only to seemingly freeze up mid-air. His body floated motionless through his realm as he returned his attention to the matters of his realm, his family and magic itself.

“Hm...” responded Cadien, not entirely sure what to make of Qael’s odd behaviour, but it was clear the God of Magic’s attention had gone elsewhere. So with a final shrug, Cadien turned and left.



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by King of Rats
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King of Rats

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Act Three, Scene One, Thoughts


The board had been laid out, various pieces stood about its massive size, masked figures of various colours upon a collection of isles, a mighty city with various bug and goblin pieces around it, a mighty tree, and even mightier temples to the far west, each piece delicately crafted and placed, but two areas had caught the eye of the Great Director.

To the north, in those mighty highlands, there stood a city. They had long ignored it, focused more upon their children and their great enemy, but now, it had drawn their eye.

Just recently, they had felt a shift within those lands, their old companion, the god of death, had seemingly begun to mess around with those beings, and now the civilization was embroiled in a civil war, one that the god of tragedy could not just ignore.

But yet, they were unsure of which side to support, while yes they had worked with the god of death and enjoyed his more, interesting, thoughts, there was still the problem of various other gods supporting the opposing side, and they had no desire to alienate others who could be useful to the Grand Play at a later time.

Meanwhile, to the far south of that realm, there stood another city, undergoing great conquests with a strange magic user at the head. Admittingly this would not usually be enough for the director to notice, but what they did notice was the magic user’s actions, they were horribly tragic, and they loved it.

Of course, if the director was going to get involved they would need to consolidate their powers, for a while now they had felt their powers growing, expanding,

That beautiful power of destruction was one of their more favorites, unleashing great fires, earthquakes, the like, it was truly a beautiful endeavor upon their part. They could feel its essence wash into them as they focused. Their bones creaked as they stretched themselves out, feeling more whole than before.

Now, with that finished, at least for now, they redirected their attention once more to the board, ah, yes, those strange druids to the north, they still did not know who to support, and, to the south, they figured a gift of some sort would be good to give that tragic mage, maybe even their old companion Neiya might want to get involved? Though, they were unsure on how she felt about other women, that would take some thought.

For now, a walk would be needed, plans were forming, but for once, the Grand Director was unsure on how to proceed, perhaps, a nice little walk would draw them closer to the answer. And so, with a jaunt in their step, the God of Tragedy took another of their walks.




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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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Cold Rage





"Where is it!" Came a ferocious growl, amplified by sheer dread.

The scrawny man with horns spoke in gibberish again, looking anywhere but upon his visage. Fresh blood dripped from his nose and his left eye was swollen shut, black and bruised upon his pale skin.

Malri threw him to the ground, where the horned man collided with the mangled bodies of others of his kind. Crushed by the mace that was still dripping with their blood. Bows, spears and broken shields littered the snow covered ground around them as the man began to crawl backwards over the corpses. Eyes tightly shut as he pleaded in a language that fell upon ears that did not understand.

Malri rummaged through another pack, letting its contents fall out onto the ground. Just flasks of water, leather and other useless items! He stomped on the contents in a fit of rage before gripping the mace tighter and walking towards the man.

"WHERE IS YOUR FOOD!" He screamed at him and the man instinctively went to cover his face, yelling in that stupid language of his. It was enough to make any being angry.

Malri fell to his knees, dropping the mace to his side as he used his free hands to grip the man by the shoulder and his other hands to cave his head in with one punch. Blood and viscera splattered his helmet but Malri did not stop until the nothing of the man's head remained. At least nothing that could be seen as a head.

He leaned over the and shut his eyes tight as the gnawing in his stomach reminded him of why he had killed them all. They would not listen! They could not understand! And so he had butchered them for their ignorance, trying to find sustenance in the frozen land that surrounded him in all ways. He slammed a fist into the ground and cursed Neiya for his predicament. She was behind all of his suffering and the mere thought of her made him angry. Oh how he wanted to wrap his hands around her throat and squeeze. Watching the life drain from her eyes would bring him joy.

With a grumbled sigh, he grabbed his weapon and stood up. He unfurled his wings and took off into the sky, leaving the carnage behind as his hunt for food continued. Without food, those inferior creatures would not have ventured far from a home. He just had to find it.




He did see smoke in the distance. Far away, more like a scraggly black line in the air. It would be a time before he arrived and the cold was not helping. He had to land, teeth chattering underneath the helmet. It was cold, why was the sun not warming him?

He looked up at it briefly and cursed under his breath. "So much for your great kindness!" He said aloud. "The great Oraeliara," he scoffed now, "Her sunlight can't even keep me warm. Have you forsaken me too?" He stumbled, and let put a exasperated yell before punching the snow covered ground. His fist went through a layer of snow and struck something hard, breaking several of his fingers in the process. The pain that swiftly followed turned to a profound rage and Malri lashed out at nothing in his anger. He threw his mace at a distant tree, before eventually collapsing to his knees out of sheer exhuastion.

"You poor thing!" a voice spoke in his head, filling him with warmth. He knew of such presences and immediately went on the defensive.

"Come to mock me more, have you, Neiya?" He said angrily, "Come to rub it in my face? Well go on then!"

"Neiya… I'm not Neiya!" she laughed. "I'm Oraeliara, duh. You said my name didn't you? Did you? I can't really remember that well. How did I get here?" There was a pause, "Oh yeah! You said the sun wasn't warm and that stood out to me soooooo- Boop!" a small, yellow glowing stone landed before him. "That will keep you warm!"

Malri hesitated. He didn't like Oraeliara. Or the accursed Oraeliari. But… But if she was going to help him… Or was she? He looked at the stone, it didn't seem like a trap. With his thumb and index finger he plucked the stone up, and a burst of warmth shot into him, breathing life into his freezing limbs.

"Why would you… Help me?" He asked.

"Uhh… Because you needed it?"

"But why? I'm a Neiyari. You should hate me for what I am." He confessed.

"I don't truly hate anything… Well maybe except myself." There was another awkward pause, one in which Malri could hardly believe what he was hearing. "Oh! I said that outloud, didn't I?" She began to giggle, but it slowly turned to soft crying, and then silence.

"Goddess?" Malri asked.

"Oh hello!" she said. "Who are you again?" she asked.

Malri squinted behind his helmet. Something wasn't quite right with this goddess. He looked over the small stone again. If she had given him such a small gift out of kindness, what more could he get out of her?

"Goddess! I am… Malri. One who has been cursed by Neiya and a God of Misery. They cast me away from the homeland, as a sick joke and told me many terrible things. Please help me goddess. My hand is broken and I cannot speak the language of the locals. I don't want to be hated here, like I was in the Luminant." He lied, feigning his voice to sound weak.

Oraeliara did not speak for a moment and Malri feared his rise had been seen through but then she spoke.

"Ugh! Neiyyaaaaaa. Why do you have to hurt people." she whined. "Why are you like this Neiya? And a God of misery…?" Her voice faded as if she was lost in thought before returning with renewed vigor in her voice. "Well! I don't know who that is but I know Neiya! So of course I'll help youuuuu! No one should have to suffer from her and her partners! Let's see, let's see! Oh I know!"

There was a clanging sound and he felt two bands of something hard wrap around his upper arms. Almost immediately his fingers, minor cuts and bruises faded away, replaced by mended bone and tissue. Another clang sounded and a pendant with a silver chain landed before him as well. He scooped it up quickly and brought the sparkling gem closer to his face.

"Okay, okay, so get this Nalri. No, that's not right. What was your name again?" she asked.

"Malri, Goddess." He whispered.

"Malri! That's right. So I gave you, like, these bands that should heal you really well and a pendant that lets you communicate with others. Isn't that great! I helped you out!"

"Indeed you have, Goddess… You have my thanks." Malri stood up, flexing his wings as new feathers grew to replace those lost. He felt warm and full of vigor in the cold frozen wastes.

"Hey what did they curse you with, anyways? You have like, really spooky armor." she inquired.

“Oh, that… That is my curse, never able to take it off.” Another lie. “And they’ve made me prone to anger. Their cruelty knows no bounds, but these gifts you’ve given, they can begin to heal my wounded soul.”

”Well that’s too bad! I’d remove the curses if I could, but for now, you should be in good hands! Haha! I gotta go now, there’s like this- flower. It’s really big and blue.” and the presence left his head.

Malri’s smirk became laughter as the sun began to set. He turned his head to the distant line of smoke and once more leapt into the sky. He soon realized that he had left his mace behind, but with the gifts Oraeliara had given him, he did not need such a crude instrument. It then appeared in his hand and Malri cursed again.







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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Alys

&
Mathias




The low stone palisade of the city of Azanta came into view, as the Carnival walked along the road.

Well, not all of them were walking.

Alys was seated in the back chariot, in a luxuriously padded seat. A single driver sat up front, steering the two quillats which pulled them. As she set her eyes upon the city’s walls, she yawned, and then brushed a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “Mathias,” she called out in a light tone.

The avatar appeared from somewhere else in the Carnival’s traveling group, his footsteps light and nearly silent, he walked up alongside the chariot Ays had chosen as her mount to travel with constantly. ”What is it Alys?” he spoke, his voice still harsh as ever.

“The city up ahead. Do you know anything about it?”

Mathius looked far ahead at the low walls, thinking long and hard for a few seconds. ”I believe that is the city of Azanta, a smaller lesser city, i don’t know much else beyond that, seems like a good place to hunker down at least for a bit.”

“Hm,” Alys mused. “I’ve heard some interesting things about these cities, you know. That the men and women are all so clean and beautiful, and there’s no shortage of admirers for entertainers.”

”Both things which could greatly assist us,” He looked up to Alys sitting on her cushions ”I think our little group will be more than welcomed there.”

She nodded. “Let’s see what it has in store, then.”

They reached the gate a few minutes later. The guards questioned them about their business. As usual, they claimed to be a travelling group of entertainers, which was technically true. And the guards seemed to have heard of them. Eventually, they were let through.

But only a few moments after entering the city, Alys recoiled, as the stench of thousands of people living together struck her nostrils. “Ick,” she gagged in disgust.

Mathius chuckled ”You know, after a while I was sure you’d get used to the smell.” This, despite the fact Mathius had no nose, and couldn’t smell a single thing.

She frowned. “So, what do you think we should do next?”

”I’d suggest first finding a place to set up, a nice public place for our performances.”

“There’s usually space in the market,” she pointed out.



And so they had gone to the market, and found a place to set up. A number of those in the Carnival began to perform, playing lyres, flutes, and drums. Alys stood among them, but had decided to hold off displaying her magic just yet. As a crowd began to form to observe and listen, two members of the Carnival walked among them, stealthily picking the pockets of wealthier looking citizens. Mathius meanwhile, stood in the shadows, keeping an eye out but not revealing himself, as he could never be too sure on how a crowd would react to him.

Eventually the market closed, and they set about the task of finding lodgings for themselves. They performed again the next day, which more or less went the same, although at the end a servant approached them and revealed that his employer, a high-ranking nobleman, wished to hire entertainment for a feast in three days.

“Hm. I accept,” Alys smiled, and the messenger looked as if his heart had melted.

After he was gone she turned to Mathias. “Looks like we’re moving up in the world, hm?”

”Quite, such a venue will let us show ourselves off a bit more, of course,” He “gazed” off to where the servant was heading off ”We should be careful, one wrong move and their tragedy shall become ours.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Alys said, though her mind was clearly elsewhere, as she thought about what might be in store. She then remembered that she had been invited as an entertainer, and not a guest, so it might perhaps not be as exciting or as luxurious as she expected. She frowned. “We’ll need to think of something to perform, then.”

The avatar thought for a moment "Our host is most likely expecting something good, perhaps we get the Ashlin twins to perform some of their acrobatics coupled with some magic?"

“I could do some magic,” she nodded. “Maybe start out with something simple, like flashing lights, and work my way up to more complex spells if that’s not enough to impress them.”

Mathius nodded, his face still scanning the city "That should work, give them something to, die for, as my creator always says, of course, if you need an extra boost I'm sure I can aid"

“Well then… let’s start planning out the specifics…”



Three days passed. They spent their days performing in the marketplace, and other public spaces. In the process, they learned more about the happenings in the city. Their noble patron, the Lord of House Petrelis, was one of the most powerful men in the city, second only to the King. The King himself was a supposedly wise and just ruler. Only two years ago he had married a princess from a neighbouring city-state to secure an alliance, and already she was pregnant with their first child. The city as a whole was relatively prosperous, with the past few years offering bountiful harvests.

In the nights, when Alys wasn’t otherwise distracted, she and Mathias planned the show they would put on for the city’s nobility. A display of acrobatics, accompanied by an illusionary light show. A short play, enhanced by illusion magic. A dance. And of course, plenty of instrumental interludes. When not performing, the members of the Carnival were instructed to learn as much as they could about the city’s nobility by taking every opportunity to talk with the staff or the guests.

It was not enough to simply know the broad strokes of the city’s everyday happenings. Alys wanted names. She wanted to know who she could exploit, either for her own amusement or her own personal gain. Though, as Mathias had said, she should still exercise some level of caution.

Eventually, the night came.



The Petrelis estate was more impressive than any building Alys had ever seen. It was larger than any ruddy chieftain’s hall, and its main hall alone could hold nearly a hundred people. Over a dozen noble families were present, and to fill up the guest list several wealthy landowners and merchants had also been invited.

It was more people than Alys had ever seen in one place, and though she was initially overwhelmed, she quickly composed herself. Your far more powerful, and more important, and more beautiful than all of them combined, she reminded herself, and then smiled. She wore a linen dress, which had been dyed purple. The rest of the Carnival was not as well-dressed; despite their best efforts to wash their attire, some still had the stains of travel. But it would have to suffice.

And suffice it did. Although many in the hall looked at the stains or the faded fabrics with disapproval, others had been more understanding - they were, after all, travellers, and had only been in the city for a few days. Indeed, they had actually been last minute replacements; the troupe of bards that Lord Petrelis had originally sought to hire had changed their plans at the last minute.

Then the performance began, and the rest were willing to overlook the shoddiness of their attire. They first began with the acrobats, with the two twins in their company impressing the audience with a series of flips and sommersaults, as Alys created a show of flashing colourful lights. Then there was the dance routine, where a small group of dancers carried out Mathias’s carefully planned choreography with surprising ease and grace.

After that, they launched into a small play, about a dispute between two wizard who loved the same woman. Eventually they wound up duelling each other, which resulted in both of them being killed, before it turned out that the person the woman actually loved was one of the mage’s apprentices. Alys had used her spells to simulate spellcasting, making the duel look surprisingly realistic, to the point where the actual mages in the crowd began to tense nervously, before realizing it wasn’t real. Then the tension turned to admiration, for all had thought illusions on that scale to be more or less impossible.

The three acts had all been met with cheers and applause, and Alys knew they had done well. Lord Petrelis, who had begun the night looking somewhat nervous, now beamed with pride. Afterward, while a handful of the Carnival’s bards continued to provide instrumental music that the rest of the room could drink and dance to, the rest - the dancers, the acrobats, Alys and Mathias themselves - were permitted to wander the room and join in the festivities.

Alys soon found herself with a crowd of admirers. Some of whom, based on the glares she received from various women in the room, already had attachments. She was bombarded with invitations to dance, and, after feigning reluctance, she accepted. She wasn’t particularly good at dancing, but most did not seem to care. More than a few had made certain propositions to her - her noble employer among them - and although she found some to be rather tempting, she had instead feigned nervousness and refused. She wanted to know more about these people, and besides, she believed an initial display of reluctance made them desire her even more.

Elsewhere, the rest of her followers did their own part to charm the crowd and gather information.

In the end, the night was a resounding success, and there was already talk that other nobles might hire them for other occasions. Alys grinned as she and her followers left the estate. “Well,” she said to Mathias. “I think that went perfectly.”

"I must admit it went better than I expected, the performance most certainly gave them a show, and I am impressed they seemingly had little opinion of my or the other's dress, that Lord certainly took a liking to you" Mathius chuckled at that, he enjoyed the constant stream of suitors Alys had, and this time was no different.

“He was rather handsome,” Alys smirked. “Anyway, they’re paying us in grain, so I think tomorrow we could go to the market and exchange it for some finer clothes. At least a few nobles want some of our performers to put on smaller shows for them in more private settings. We could probably stay here a long time before we have to move on, I think.”

”It would not be a terrible idea, having their patronage for a time could help us, upgrade our appearance, no offense but our little troupe does have a habit of looking no better than poor villagers.” He looked down at himself ”Though, I must admit I am no better.”

“Indeed,” Alys nodded. “You really should find some better garb.”

”Not my fault my creator decided to choose this as my form, a mask should be sufficient to limit the amount of staring eyes, and I'm sure you will seek some more opulent outfits yourself.”

“I suppose your outfit works if we say it’s a costume for a performance,” Alys shrugged. “But still. Can you not change it? Or at the very least wear something else over it?”

He shrugged in return ”I haven’t had the care enough to attempt, admittingly my creator is loose in his use of me, but regardless, it is hard to find garb that will fit my, body shape.” He gestured to his own incredibly boney arms still covered with golden cloth, and his similarly golden cloth face that just barely looked like an actual face.

“Hmm…” a rare look of thoughtfulness passed over Alys’s face. “What does your creator want, anyway? Flattered as I am that a divine avatar has spent so much time following me around, you never did tell me why.”

[color=A52A2A]”Well, I would’ve if I knew, despite my deep connection to them, they have only informed me to keep an eye on you and, in their words ‘draw her closer’, I’ve always assumed I am here to ensure you cause as much tragedy as possible, which, is not that hard a task.”[color] The end of his words were filled with, some sense of pride.

“Oh, you’ve ensured nothing,” Alys scoffed. “I do what I want. I have power, and I use it as I see fit. Not that I’m not grateful for your help, of course.”

Mathius chuckled, ”My creator would say otherwise, but, I have no interest in arguing it, just glad I'm no longer babysitting a child who somehow managed to get more lost than she already was.”

“Hey,” Alys gave a mock-pout. “I seem to recall that I was the one giving the orders. And my infallible leadership eventually brought us here, didn’t it? It may have taken several years, but it’s progress!”

”Yes, and let us forget the several regions and villages we can never return to due to your orders.” He replied, taking a similar mock-tone of disappointment.

“But that was all part of my master plan! Those places were so awful, I had no choice but to engineer events so that we can’t possibly go back. Really, in the long-run I did us a favour.”

Mathius couldn’t help but laugh at that one ”Alright I’ll give you that, some of those places were pretty horrid, but, I digress.” He looked up at the dark sky ”We should find rest once more, not like I need it, but our group will need it, what with all the nobles in a mile radius offering us gigs.”

“Oh, I’ll rest… eventually…” her eyes flickered over to the acrobatic twins in their troupe, and lingered on them for a few moments. “The next few days will be rather busy, I think.”



And indeed, they were. The troupe was outfitted with finer clothes. Plays, songs, and dance routines were rehearsed in preparation, and Alys began sending off performers to various new patrons. It was nothing major - mostly family dinners or small gatherings - but it did serve to bolster their reputation and bring in a source of income.

Then, exactly one week after their first performance in the city’s marketplace, tragedy struck. The Queen of Azanta had gone into labour early, but her child was stillborn, and the Queen herself perished not long after. The once cheerful King was stricken by grief.

The tragic news even gave Alys pause, but only for a moment. Then she shrugged. People died all the time. What made royalty so special? So, she went back to enjoying herself, and planning for the next performance…






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Evette

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The First Templars




Four promising recruits had been gathered. All of them from Korstone or the surrounding villages. All of them skilled, and all of them seemingly dedicated to the cause. The ingredients themselves had not been too hard to gather. Now, it was time to begin.

They stood on a hill. The moon loomed overhead. She had thought long and hard about how to go about this. There should be some sort of ceremony, she decided. This was a holy duty. So, she looked upon the first of her recruits - a warrior from the countryside, with a copper sword and hide armour. “Do you swear to eradicate all abominations, and all threats to humankind?”

“By Cadien’s Grace, I swear it,” the man answered.

“Do you swear to protect the innocent, whatever the cost?”

“By Gibbou’s Shield, I swear it.”

“And do you swear to serve as a beacon of hope? To lend your aid to those who need it?”

“By Oraelia’s Light, I swear it.”

She handed him a clay cup. He eyed the red liquid warily, and then drank. He gagged slightly, but was able to force it down. The effects were almost immediate. His eyes widened, as he felt his reflexes increase and his eyes adjusted themselves to the darkness.

She went through the rest of her recruits, and did the same. There was a guardsman from Korstone. A mage, also from Korstone. And a hunter from a rural village. They all drank, and they all changed.

“It is done,” she declared. “You are now Templars of the Night.”








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Her vision was adrift in the far reaches, as it had many times before. Life upon Galbar was difficult, but among the stars, she had found peace. Let today she had stumbled upon something new, no, was drawn to something new.

She saw a figure in strange, black armor that resembled several of the metallic chunks that flew about space. Even weirder, she turned to face her. The augur had seen a great many things, but it was the first time she was seen. Her form was as if it was made of flame contained only by her armor, and carried an exquisite spear. Her attention returned to what she was watching, the space dust whirling around, and slowly forming into a solid structure.

Within this state, words were meaningless, and intention carried across the nothingness. She was Allende, a divine vessel of the starry shepherd. It was by his will that she could see distant things, and it was by his will that she was aware of this nameless space. She was unnerved by the avatar's annoyance, which emitted from her form.

The vision began to fade, but before it ended, she knew the space's purpose and hers. She quietly whispered the name she gave it, "Paradiso."





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In the far off distance she could see the yellow glow amid the trees. It illuminated the grand column of smoke rising above it. Before the blackness of the night sky consumed it. Then, it only blocked the stars from sight. Still you could smell the smoke even where she was. Her men had sacked the unruly village of Bul’Gadin some time ago. Maybe it was too much for their disobedience. Auriëlle wasn’t a judge. The only thing she knew was that Nalla had send her here to teach them a lesson. In the same clearing as her stood some of her most trusted warriors. Not the ones Nalla had indoctrinated. No, these were hers. Even if she didn’t know their names. They were wretched men. Who enjoyed violence almost as much as she did. Yet here they were, away from the destruction. Bearing witness to it only. It was a strangely spiritual moment. Something Auriëlle thought she was incapable of feeling, until she sat down upon the altar that was surrounded by the raised stones.

Behind her several men began to hum. It was a strange, droning sound that quickly spread. Auriëlle wasn’t certain what song it was. Yet she basked in its sound with her eyes closed. Even up here on the hill, she could feel the slight amount of heat radiating from below in the vale. From the burning village. The humming wasn’t so much as interrupted as added to by the sudden sound of struggle and screams. “Please!” A voice from the path behind Auriëlle said. “Please! No!” Even from the way his voice was trembling, Auriëlle knew the man had cried in hysteric fits. The noise became louder. It approached her. When it was close enough, Auriëlle hopped off the flat stone. Right after her a fat man was thrown over the stone.

“My lady! I beg of you! Mercy! Mercy of Salavar. You spared them. Surely you can spare us.” The bald, fat man pleaded.

Auriëlle knew exactly what he meant with ‘spare us’. The village was already burning. People were already running or burning. They couldn’t be spared. What he meant was ‘spare me’. Spare him and his family. The groveling disgusted Auriëlle, who quickly kicked him in the face. “Be quiet.” She ordered. Before she began to make the rounds of the stones. They paled with the memory she had of the megaliths in Ha-Dûna. Even the carvings were lesser. Yet their meaning was clear. This was a small gathering for the druids. Druids that had advised the village of Bul’Gadin for ages now. Perhaps luckily for herself, they were gone now. Or perhaps luckily for them. She would’ve preferred a druid. As they had some sort of connection to the gods. Or so they claimed. Still, her fingers trailed the stones with a strange fascination. She would let them stand. For now.

Then she turned her focus upon the altar. “You know why you’re here?” She asked, softly as she approached him. “Do you know what I have in store for you?” She trailed his cheek gingerly with a finger.

“I beg of you, my lady. I’m just a humble-“ The man was interrupted.

Because Auriëlle had reached out with her powers, drawing out the air of his lungs. As if he was suffocating. “Stop talking now.” She said, again with a soft, almost caring voice .”You’re not here to talk.” She released him from her magical grip. The man cough violently. His lungs drew in as much air as they could. His heartbeat, desperate for the air, skyrocketed. She gave the order with a single nod. A moment later the man’s throat was slit. Blood poured over the altar. Coating it surface thoroughly before it dripped off the sides.

Breaking Altars had become a delight for Auriëlle. Especially with druidic ones. They, somehow, always managed to get the smoothed chunks of stone. The humming around her got louder as Auriëlle traced her finger along the bloodied stone. Something quickened in her heart. The sense of…something more. Was this how most felt in the presence of their god? How could she know. She had never been in the presence of a god she would’ve prayed for.

Nonetheless, the moves she made around the altar were driven not entirely by herself. The corpse of the chieftain slipped off the slab of stone. A moment later, Auriëlle put both her hands on it. The humming grew even louder now. She heard the word ‘Neiya’ and suddenly something clicked. They weren’t humming. They were softly chanting to their goddess. She couldn’t help but close her eyes and as a sense of more-ness flowed over her. She channeled that sense of greatness into the stone. Bidding it break and fracture for her. Her magic pulsed together with the chant sang with her.

“Can you even see this, Neiya?” Auriëlle asked in a whispered prayer. Still she doubted the gods. Neiya favored Nalla. That much was sure. But did she favor Nallan? Did she favor Auriëlle? The prayer mixed with the droning chanting. The pulses of her magic became stronger and bored deeper. Even into the ground. She felt a need to destroy. The grass along the altar began to blacken and die. Yet the strange sickness did not touch her own men. Suddenly just breaking the altar wasn’t enough. She needed to utterly destroy it.

”My dear, you should really improve your destructive capabilities, I grow bored of just watching you slowly destroy an altar, just crack it in two already.” A sudden voice spoke, it was incredibly strange, jaunty yet harsh, and the gender was nigh-indistinguishable, and, it came from the depths of her mind, not beyond it.

She had felt this before. The voice in her head. Now it was different though. This wasn’t Oraelia speaking. It mocked her. She broke the pulsing power but the humming continued. Instead she raised her right arm and then came down upon the stone altar with the edge of her hand. It broke in two in an instant but the force pushed on. A wave of invisible energy travelled across the ground. Blackening and killing every plant within the stone circle. “Happy now!” She spat into the skies, as she assumed that’s where the gods were. In their neat little heavens.

”Now that is destruction, that was so much more entertaining!” the voice continued, becoming a lot more jaunty than before ”I’ve been watching you for a while my dear and I must say, you hold yourself back too much, you really need to let go and just, destroy willy nilly.”

The humming stopped as her warriors looked up with Auriëlle up into the starless sky. “I’m not here for your entertainment.” She continued as she rested her hands upon the two sides of the altar, hunched over it and let out an exasperated sigh. Truth was that the more she destroyed, the more she killed, the more she liked it. She could still see the yellow glow off into the distance and the smoke plume it illuminated. For a second she thought she could hear the same symphony as she had heard in Teperia. But then she wretched herself free of those feelings. “And I still have a queen to serve. One that can hardly reign over ashes.” She looked up into the skies again. “So which one of the useless gods are you? One of the druid’s? Neiya? Cadien?”

There came an incredibly loud laugh, it echoed through her mind and seemingly bounced around in her mind, she could feel the sadistic joy within it as it did. ”My dear, everything in this world is for my entertainment, if they know it or not, as for, who I am, I am none of those gods, the ‘useless’ ones as you call them, my name is rarely spoken by your kind, but, my control extends over you all nonetheless.”

Auriëlle let out a cruel laugh. She laughed and laughed. For a second her warriors thought she had gone insane. For just a split second she believed she had met something akin to a kindred spirit. That sadistic joy was a little too familiar. Then she realized she was dealing with divinity. “So what am I to you then, oh nameless one? A puppet whose strings you pull? Or have I been dancing alone, for an audience that doesn’t care?”

”Well, not alone mind you, I would put you as one of the more, interesting, actors, that while they don’t take center stage, they show their importance throughout the scenes, your actions furthering the Great Play, and beautifully so if I do say so myself.”

For a second she felt insulted. For the better part of a year now she had been rampaging around Nallan. Olwar was killed by her hands. Teperia was woven into a tapestry of fire. Even now she was making sure even the druids got the message written in blood. How could she not take center stage? Then, for a second, things switched up. She had done all those things and she was only and interesting actor? The world was, ultimately, doomed then. “So that’s what you want from me? To keep doing…this?”

”Oh of course!” The voice loudly proclaimed ”Your destruction is a beautiful thing, though, I think you might want to rework your technique here and there, you still hold back, letting go and just razing the earth beneath you can be fun every now and then.”

She crossed her arms. “Nalla won’t like that.” She was just waiting to get chewed out already for what she did in Teperia. What was happening here and now in Bul’Gadin was just a cherry on top. Then again, Nalla had brought in a blood hound. She didn’t really expect her to just play fetch? “There are lines I can’t cross.” She said out loud before she turned into herself and thought: ‘Gods will be angry. Neiya… will be angry if Nallan doesn’t grow.’ The thoughts had an echo of fear.

”Oh nonsense! I'm sure Neiya won’t mind a bit of destruction here and there! In fact, let me go grab her, think it's about time she actually talked to you.” The voice faded from her mind, yet she still felt the haze over her, almost as if the owner had just walked away for a brief moment. For a few moments she was alone, it was almost blissful. ”Come on Neiya at least acknowledge her!” And it was gone.

The silence dragged out for a few moments more, dragged into uncertainty whether anything more would even occur. Then, as though a heat wave rushed through the area, the air around her seemed to grow thick and cloying. The wind rushed around Auriëlle and her men, a soft gust of wind whirling about each of them. In the rush of wind she felt something brush against her clothes, tussle her hair, and breathe in her ear. A presence lodged in the back of her mind, sighing invitingly before a smooth voice rang through her mind. "Oh, my sweet. So worried of what gods and rulers desire. Are you doing this for me, Auriëlle, daughter of Frankert and Elliénne? For Nalla?"

The rustling of the wind made the men step back. From their reaction, Auriëlle knew that she wasn’t the only one who had felt the touch of divinity. No matter how fleeting it was. The men looked wide-eyed at her now though. She saw the sudden sense of understanding in their eyes: she really was talking to at least one god. Then that voice echoed in her mind. Was this Neiya then? For a moment Auriëlle wanted to just be drawn into the voice. But she shook herself loose. “For myself.” Her tone carried defiance. The destruction she wrought was entirely for herself. Even though she prayed to Neiya before, it was only to garner favor amongst Nallan’s troops. “But I hold back for Nallan.” She then admitted. The words had already been out there.

"Disappointing," the voice crooned softly. An invisible sensation of touch pressed against her skin, and ran up along her chin. "You have seen what one can accomplish with my affection - felt it. Do you think Nalla holds back, my dearest?"

“We are not the same!” Auriëlle sneered. “Nalla is queen and I am-“ What was she? A commander? A warlord? Her gaze turned to the broken altar. Maybe she would become something more. A force of nature. Wrath and destruction manifest. It was an ambitious goal, but perhaps not entirely beyond her reach. “I am whatever I am but I am not a queen. I don’t rule.” She said. Her gaze then turned to the men around her. Her most loyal… followers. “I just destroy.”

"Mrhm. No wonder Yamat couldn't stop gushing about you," the voice continued. "You certainly dance well to the tune of others, but those who dare not reach beyond the will of others may find themselves forgotten. Are you more than a leashed pet, my darling?"

The question felt barbed to Auriëlle. “The queen cannot rule over ashes yet I burned Teperia.” She looked off towards the great yellow glow. “Down their Bul’Gadin burns as well. More ashes the queen will hate me for. Nalla’s collar is already off.”

“But don’t pretend like I have any other choice when it comes to yours.” She sneered now, with even more malice now. Not in the local Ketrefian dialect. Instead she lost her façade and spoke in Cadic: “None of you care if we live or die. Until we don’t walk the damned path you and your kind define.” Her voice flared in rage. The people around her became uneasy now. She was talking to a goddess, the goddess, with a terrible tone. In a language they didn’t understand. Auriëlle knew it as well but brushed the thought away. “Not upholding your oath might see your life destroyed. Sleep at night or you risk being knocked out by the moon. You talk as if we aren’t forced to dance to your tunes but we are.”

She walked up to the megalith of the water god. In Acadia they named his Klaar but right here, he looked different. His megalith was adorned not by tentacles but by fishes. She rested her hand on the stone and continued her rant: “See this stone!? If I destroy it, will I not be drowned in the next year?” She then passed onto the next stone. The only one that was left completely unadorned. “The great boar’s rock. See it? If I destroy it won’t his sons, the trolls, come? His wrath manifest?” She moved away from the stone, not willing to summon any of the other druidic gods their attention. Though she looked up again towards the heavens where the gods she was talking to should be. “We can never reach beyond the will of even a single god. Never for long.”

"Nor should you, my sweet," the voice continued with an amused breath. "Your existence is a simple one, but it need not be as stale as Cadien's statuary. You called for me in the past - I saw then, as I see now. What will you do with my attention, now that you have it?"

The other voice, Yamat, as Neiya called them, spoke softly, almost whispering to her ”Be careful with your answer here, I enjoy your performance and don’t want to see any harm come to you.”

A sane, balanced, humble mortal would take and heed Neiya’s message. Do not attempt to reach beyond even a single god’s will. Not Auriëlle though. It was a challenge. A taunt. One she would’ve created upon. If the first god hadn’t whispered in her mind. Was Neiya vengeful? Auriëlle had no idea. She had ranted and raged so far with seemingly no consequences. Nonetheless, the first god seemed somehow more sincere than most others. Perhaps it was the shared sense of sadistic joy that made her trust him. “I only called upon you…to honor you.” She admitted as she sat down on the broken altar. Her rage and anger had ebbed away somewhat now. “Teperia, the temple. I did it to honor you.” She wore her mask again though, as she spoke in Ketrefian.

Silence reigned once more as she spoke, leaving her to watch her surroundings and allow uncertainty to creep in. Soon after, a soft snicker rang out in her mind, elegant and amused. "How sweetly you bow, my one and only,” the sultry voice returned, inviting and mocking in the same tone. The wind began to pick up around her once more, dirt and debris swept up to whirl around her and the altar with building force. Invisible hands stretched around her throat, and the sensation of long nails dragged over her skin, over and around her neck. They met at the back, and something weighed her down - a new sensation of cold metal clinging to her throat. "Honor me always, my love, and none shall leash you ever again. No god will love you as I do.” the voice demanded and promised in equal measure, releasing a heavy sigh filled with that same promise. In that instant, a singular image - the silhouette of a horned woman - imprinted itself in her mind, like a seed sown to fester. The whirlwind ceased, and the sensations stopped just as swiftly. At once, the air grew lighter, and the subtle pressure in the back of her mind grew distant and eventually vanished. It seemed at least one deity had left.

Her blood ran cold when the invisible fingers crawled around her neck. Would she die like this? By a god’s hand? Doing nothing as it happened. Her muscles drew taunt as the nails scraped along her skin. She didn’t even dare to breathe. Then the weight came. It was small, yet it came out of nowhere. Then the image flashed before her eyes. All fear vanished, like ice before fire. The horned woman, it wasn’t someone else. It was her! How she understood that was beyond her. When Neiya’s presence receded, the warriors around her let out a deep sigh. Many of them kneeled down and ushered a quick prayer of thanks to the goddess. Auriëlle, on the other hand, held the piece of metal in her hand to look at it. It was a periapt of horns. A lovely looking thing. It felt both lighter and heavier than it should be. It reminded her of the small disc she had found that she wore on her belt.

As soon as one left, the other came back in, ”That went, about how I expected, but, no matter, she has given you something which means, you at least have her favor.” The voice had lost a good deal of its jaunty nature, sounding more, drained than before.

“At least I have her favor.” She echoed the remaining god’s words as she traced along the metal with a finger. “And with it… I will burn the world.” She then said as she looked up with a smirk. As she hadn’t forgotten this god of destruction and ruin yet.

"Now that's what I was hoping to hear." The god replied, the jauntyness of their voice returning. "And don't worry about a gift from me, you've already gotten it, I'll be sure to, enhance it once I get the time."

The god’s gift would manifest itself in due course no doubt. Auriëlle was certain of it. For now, she regaled some of the things the gods told her about. Her warriors consumed every word she said. None of them were literate but they would remember. This great moment would be etched in their mind. Here, amid the broken druid circle, all of them shared in something greater. Something spiritual. As they had in Teperia, in the temple of the Light. Many began to see Auriëlle as the chosen one. Not just by one god, but by many. With her as the vanguard, the world would one day burn. They all agreed upon that. Away from Auriëlle though. The warriors were well aware that the sorceress did not want to be a true leader. None the less they would serve her.

But another god had been watching as well. He had been watching before Yamat and Neiya came and he would watch Auriëlle for long after they left her. He watched now not his daughter but the zealots around her. Who saw her as some sort of prophet of destruction. He had heard her rant against the tyranny of the gods. She was right, even if only a few of his siblings could dare admit it. For but a moment, the shadow of the zealots arched towards each other. Sharing a power. Above them, they felt the skies turn dark. A light they couldn’t see vanished.








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Artifex stood within a war room. It was new, freshly built within the tower Artifex had hosted Gibbu in and its most prominent feature was a strategy map of Ha-Dûna and its surrounding area. The god still seethed at the offence given by this “Sigeran” and at (some) of Ha-Dûna’s practical excitement at the prospect of roaming out into the world and doing battle in his name.

Rather than lash out immediately, Artifex had first driven his rage into productivity, forging this war room and using what little eyes he had in the area to garner an understanding of the situation therein. The prospects for those upon which the blades of Ha-Dûna would fall were not good. It was true, they had their new walls and the knowledge of how to use them and together they could hold a numerical advantage over the city they were all to spread out and disunified to actually pose much of an opposition. They would need time to amass their strength against the coming storm if they were to stand a chance.

”If the people of Ha-Dûna won’t engage in more constructive distractions, if they want war and death and slaughter, then they shall have it!” Artifex announced to the floating sets of glass butterflies he basically set to follow him everywhere so he could keep a closer eye on their automatic business. The god (in imposing horned insect form) conjured a stone from the air and began to whittle it, carving stone with the ease of wood. Stone dust and splinters fell away until the god was satisfied with the small stone sculpture he’d made. The small statue was the size of a doll, and had a wide smooth base to help it standard upright. It looked like a humanoid grasshopper wearing segmented armor and what looked to be a full face helm with the top slit off around its neck that led into a dark interior.

The god examined the miniature a few times, before nodding and putting it down on the strategy map atop one of the rocky hills surrounding the city of Ha-Dûna.




The sun was setting in an alabaster sky above the highlands around Ha-Dûna. Below in the forest her exiled daughters and sons made camp. Fires were stoked. Meager meals were prepared. Libral amounts of nettle tea was set to boiling.

Spirits were low and perhaps none were lower than those of the Mothers. The nascent order of mothine women charged with upholding peace and protecting the weak had failed their first real challenge. The ascension of the war god Sigeran and the inevitable return of the ways of conquerors and raiders by the city’s people that would follow was antisma to everything they were supposed to uphold.

Aimil sat around a cock fire with a few of her fellows, the first and so far only of their blessed kind.but what did it mean to be blessed by gods who had been foiled, struck down by one that had been considered lesser. Their discussion then, as it had so many nights before,turned to theology. Aimil was getting sick of it, but some of her sisters seemed to have endless energy to invest in the matter.

“I say again. It must be a test! We have been brought low yes, but that does not mean we are forsaken! We must have done something wrong, which is why the gods allowed this to happen,” Mairead, a young mother with ruby and bronze colored wings insisted, “and only once we root out what has displeased them, and then we will be returned to the grace of the gods once more.”

“The gods did not allow this. They intervened, and yet all they could do was let the faithful run,” Sorcha, her wings black and her moonsilver helm still dining her head, retorted bitterly, “you are too young to remember the days when the gods didn’t intervene all willy nilly.”

“You make it sound like its a bad thing, that the gods are paying us special mind”

“All I’m saying, is it wern’t always like this. Who’s to say it always will be,” Sorcha continued “and really, who’s to say they’re able to manipulate things as finely as you say? What did they even do on that black day? Messed with the sky mostly. Made a deer-”

“They gave us wings and silver,” Mairead retorted

“Sure sure. And give the druids power too. But that’s the thing. It’s always people. And wasn’t power that the bastard used to turn the people against the other gods. It was words. It was words from the moon too when the city turned its attention to temple building.”

“And cursed the weapons and bones of those who attacked the innocent, and build the walls around the villages”

“It’s all words and gifts or curses. What I’m saying is they work through people, and if the people don't work with them then maybe they can’t do much.”

It would have been poignant for Artifex’s opening move to have revealed itself then and there, but instead it was about 20 minutes later after Aimil had wrangled the conversation round to the night’s smiting that the statue hit the table. When it did, the side of the hill close to Ha-Dûna exploded as a tall giant of stone and metal pulled itself from the earth, as if it had been entombed within it and had now come back to life. It stood, dirt and stone crumbling from its form and looked towards the city it towered above.

In the camp and in the city the humans looked at the distant figure with fear and awe even as it faded into the twilight and asked themselves “what does it mean”




Artifex next carved several dozen smaller statues, each depicting swarms of hulking insectile beasts with many wings, spikes ridging their limbs and two giant scythe-like blades in-place of hands. As each was placed down on the table next to the first figure, a swarm of man sized monsters spewed forth from the mouth of the statue down below, forming a growing swarm that buzzed around their new home and master.

”Let us see how they like to be the subject of raids, hmmm? If they wish to fight without honor or mercy, let them fight something incapable of either. Go, my titan, sweep away”




The statue, surrounded by a cloud of locustine minions, obeyed, marching forth into the night and vanishing from the sight of the exiles as it headed for the outskirts of the city. It struck the outskirts of it, the plague of giant locusts descending to devour crops of farmstead after farmstead. When the dawn arose, fields lay empty and those farmers that had attempted to fight the horde lay dead, their bodies rend in two by the monster’s blades. It also found the titan standing clear as day stood atop an insurmountable rocky mountain overlooking Ha-Dûna, making sure that they knew it was not going anywhere.




Aimil’s dreams were filled with a strange nightmare of grasshoppers attacking small anthills, descending upon them, ripping them apart and then carrying off their food and young back to their nest. It was a cycle that repeated again and again against hill after hill against all kinds of different ant hill they reached one where the ants closed off the entrances to their hive upon the arrival of the locusts. They did not sit idle inside their home till the locusts eventually tore them apart, and instead used runners to summon ants from other nests. They came, ants of all shapes and sizes, and hemmed the grasshoppers in against the ant hill, and then together the ants from within and from without crushed the grasshoppers between them.

Aimil awoke and had to mull this over for a while before bringing the ideas the dream had inspired to the others. They should go their separate ways, she suggested, to the towns around the Ha-Dûna, and try to convince them to not simply stand alone or submit to the city’s might, but to set aside old rivalries, grudges and animosities and come together as one people to stand against a common foe. Arguments were made this way and that about whether they should go, who would go where or what they should do and how they would keep in touch, but in the end it was agreed. The towns needed to work together if they wanted to survive the tyranny of the city and they would be their messengers and guids towards this new reality.




Artifex nodded satisfactorily as he witnessed this. With any luck his opening gambit would buy them time to do what they needed to do, but only time would tell if it would be enough.

The god stepped away from the table and awaited his opponent’s next move.




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Mekellos




It had been a hectic week for Acadia.

A new Pontiff of Cadien had been appointed. Rather than allow an election to occur, Mekellos had chosen this one himself - a red-haired Merelli. Given what happened to the last one, this one felt more or less inclined to agree with everything he said.

Aside from that, other changes were made too. The practice of abandoning infants who had noticeable defects had been found abhorrent by the Avatar. He had to explain that not all defects and disabilities always rendered some useless. Some defects were actually mostly harmless, and only served to provide an unpleasant appearance.

There was also the matter of Gibbou’s place in the pantheon. When asked if she should be officially recognized, with her own pontiff and branch of the priesthood, Mekellos had simply shrugged and replied: “why not?” This had been taken as acceptance. Now a new pontiff needed to be chosen, a new priesthood founded, and there needed to be a purpose for them to fulfill. Making armour, perhaps? Mekellos left the finer details up to the council. Someone floated the idea that all blacksmiths should be considered priests of Gibbou, and once again they turned to a stalemate.

The Council didn’t dare object to anything Mekellos said, whether it was a suggestion or an order. He was the Avatar of their city’s patron god, so how could they deny them? That said, most of the Council had definitely taken a liking to him - the Pontiffs of Evandra and Neiya, as well as the Queen herself, in particular.



In the meantime, he had also inspected the city’s armies. He had looked upon the discipline and fitness of their soldiers with approval. These men and women were, after all, trained from birth to maintain a peak physique and to follow orders. Unsurprisingly, they excelled at both. He saw the tightness of their spearmen’s phalanx formation and the accuracy of their archers.

Mekellos looked upon them, and as was his duty, he wondered: how can this be made better? Then, he had an idea.

He waved his hand, and hundreds of bows materialized in the practice yard, far longer and far stronger than anything the Acadians had on hand. The new soldiers were taken aback by the casual display of divine power.

“I have crafted some new weapons for you,” he announced. “They’ll take some getting used to, but they possess far more range and power than any bow you have ever shot. Now, go on. Pick some up and start practicing. Put the rest into storage somewhere.”

The Avatar turned away. “Now I’ll take a look at your defenses…”



Acadia was surrounded by a stone palisade, ten metres high. It was of reasonable thickness, but there was no walkway to stand atop it. For archers to defend the city, there were a series of towers, placed at regular intervals. Unfortunately, only so many archers could defend the city at once. Mekellos wondered if there was a way to increase their firepower.

He considered the problem for days, sequestering himself within a room, pausing his deliberations only when one of the monarchs or pontiffs came to visit him. They caught only glimpses of his design; strange schematics that he was constantly redrafting.

Then, at last, the avatar devised something that was workable. He walked from tower to tower, conjuring forth the devices. They were like gigantic bows turned sideways, capable of loading and loosing massive arrows. He added one to each tower, until the city was surrounded by them.

“There,” he smiled, once he was done. “That’s better.”






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It was predicted. Foretold. Inevitable. Mortalkind was moving too slow. Especially now. Their knowledge of the world was fledgling at best, non-existent at worst. The portents predicted by the great designs had come through at last. The milestone was not reached. Even with the challenges Qael’Naath had enacted. The god sat in his middle island. The only island he had found that didn’t move an inch. Even though the blue sun was the center of his realm, this island refused to move for it. His eyes did not glimmer. The winds of magic were shrieking somewhere on Galbar. Uncontrolled power with no consciousness, no direction.

Its ruler was meditating upon a flat stone amidst a great, emerald and topaz waterfall. With all his eyes closed. The colored mist flowed around him. Forming constructs. Spells that had no reason to exist in a realm that didn’t need them. The second the vapor moved away from the god, it crumbled out of existence again. The schemes and diagrams vanished. Qael, as he opened his eyes after his rumination noticed this. His own subconsciousness was shaping the mana in his close presence. In fact only now did he realize he was sitting on a rock marked with lines, geometry and strange symbols. But the second he rose up, it vanished again. None the less, he realized something important. Mortalkind was not the only one who could forge spells. For two millenia and three decades nearly he had sworn to never so directly aid mortals. He would be the teacher. Not anymore. All six of his eyes flicked with rainbow light.

The shrieking entity in the sky calmed in a moments notice. Then the sky around it lit up with a million specks of light, as if a thousand stars flickered into existence and were extinguished again. In truth, the god of magic was working hard. Harder than ever. He felt his own power being consumed. After this, he would have to rest. None the less he pushed on. It was a great work not seen since the age of creation. The very power of divinity was working the world as if it was wet clay. A million spells, forged at the hands of a god, were flowing across Galbar. Settling in woodland regions, great wastes and mighty mountains. They were spells of ice, shadows, grass, air, cloth, bronze, iron and many more things.

When he was finally done, trillions of new spells had been birthed. These were not the meek and meager things mortals created and that were only sustained by the god of magic’s constant attention. No these were well defined creations. Though they were made by a god, thus understood by a god. Making them dangerously undecipherable for any mortal. It was a challenge. One greater than the puzzleboxes. One that would cost lives, this time around. Qael watched as the golden flecks covered Galbar. To his own surprise, he felt remorse grow in his heart. Remorse. Such a mortal feeling. None the less he knew that he felt it. There was nothing more he could do though. There was wisdom to what Cadien had said. He couldn’t just give mortals so much power. They had to earn it. Learn from it. Now though, he at least gave them an almost tangible goal


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Neiya





Talons rapped restlessly against the opulent armrests of the throne Neiya found herself languidly sat back in. The impatient clicking of nails against stone were joined only by the sound of the cold river snaking through the glen. The occasional butterfly and the eternal wilting and regrowth of the trees could no longer capture her attention, even though she appreciated their beauty. Likewise, the prayers of mortals had lost much, if not all of their appeal. She found herself responding only to the most novel of prayers; the most devout, the most impassioned, and the most outlandish. Furthermore, she felt as though many of her prayers had shifted - there truly was nothing more banal than yet another mortal asking for her blessing in a battle without even knowing her name.

The maelstrom of emotions that had given her so much bitterness was much more manageable now, quieted by experience, control, and shifting the burden onto Aveira. Now she found herself missing the potency with which it had coursed through her mind in the past. It had dominated her every breath, demanded attention and threatened to distract her. Now that she found herself squaring it away into a constant but unimportant sensation, there was nothing to fill the void left by the absence of it’s chaotic roar. Neiya came upon a simple, inescapable truth; she was bored.

For a time she busied herself with the simplest of pleasures; responding to those few prayers that interested her most, and pushing the people asking for her aid to do as they wished rather than what was necessary. A human man pushed to break a few rules to be with the woman he desired, a lapite noble convinced to listen to his own interests rather than the wisdom of his advisors. Through coaxing, manipulation, sweet words and bullying, they all walked straight towards what they innerly wished for. It led to a few distinct and cathartic moments, but more than anything else it made her feel fulfilled. For a time.

She had made an active decision to not visit Cadien in Meliorem for a while, lest he begin to take her for granted. Yamat's realm was even less enticing than her own, and the God of Tragedy was always smugly entertained - something she resented deeply in her own dearth of entertainment. She didn't particularly want to brave Antiquity either; it was inevitably lifeless and uninteresting. No, whatever enjoyment she would glean, she would find from her throne. If Yamat and Cadien could do it, so could she.

Something needed to change. Her purpose was clearer now. The torrent of emotion had felt like a curse, a bitter blend of pain and occasional happiness. But now that it was quieter, it was easier to separate and experience. To immerse herself in without being overpowered by a flurry of unbidden emotions. From this fresh, distant perspective, she could find new appreciation in sampling even the most desperate, sorrowful pains. Each pang of guilt, fury, sadness. All of it had a story, a tale of mortals caught up in their own struggles. These emotions, tied up within each other, were a tangled mess, an uncomfortable torrent of needs and wants. She couldn't find the right moments that caused such stark feelings herself, nor did she have any intention to sit tight and spectate mortals in their dreadfully slow and dense pace. But she could create an approximation to be enjoyed.

Willing a return to her clear connection with the maelstrom of emotion, Neiya immersed herself fully in the experience, as she had the peaceful tranquility of the ocean - and the endless expanse of Aicheil's realm. Allowed herself to feel and, knowing the experience was now entirely voluntary, enjoy each twist and churn of mortal expression. Hate, sorrow, anguish, despair, desire, happiness. Each had their own distinct feeling, their particular reason for existence. In a way, each was exciting to feel when sorted from the mess.

Neiya extended her talons out towards her realm, and the entire area began to warp and twist as the maelstrom left her mind to affect the landscape. She had tried to imitate Galbar, and made a desolate waste - no more. She would do what she wanted. Unfettered by the tedious laws of the world beyond. The ashen landscape and river twisted and broke apart, divided into a dizzying array of islands, valleys, and oceans with no true arrangement. Without divine power or flight, moving between the areas would be all but impossible - and even then they each had their own direction. Each themed after a touch of emotion as Neiya experienced it. It was an endless landscape of new experiences. But it was not enough. She wanted more.

Neiya deepened her connection to the desires of mortals, diving deep into the wellspring of sensations to dig up the most rare, depraved and strange emotions. All mortal desire would have a place. The most powerful and primal needs, the feelings that ruled all mortals, beyond their pathetic contexts. Pride. Greed. Lust. Wrath. Envy. She felt herself change under her new purpose, a greater power allowing her to finally smooth out the jagged chaos she had suffered in the past. Bring her shape some warmth, accentuate herself according to mortal desires. This was her true purpose - doing what she wanted; and allowing mortals to embrace themselves in the same way. They called it sin, she knew it was more than that - it was mortality being true to themselves - and it was exciting.

As the realm began to settle, Neiya reclined in her throne once more. She regarded her now black nails, long still but less openly violent. Her skin was a warm shade of pink, soft and curvaceous as opposed to her other forms. A single set of horns ran from her forehead. The metallic edges and shoulder horns were gone, in their place a majestic set of leathery dark wings.

Neiya smiled gingerly to herself. She was complete, and ready to make her mark on Galbar once and for all. To start, she needed to settle some old scores.







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Thaa had been thinking of trying a different kind of tactic with all that had occurred. Truly the achievement of his most noble goal was one not to be delayed but it did seem that so many had such different ideas. In truth Thaa also grew disattached to the western highlands that he had so recently been involved in. After all did he not wish to spread good tidings to all of mortal kind? Of course to seek to aid all of mortal kind was a large task even for a deity so rightly guided. Perhaps now he could simply turn his attention to the eastern highlands, simply split the attention as it were for now.

In truth there was another facet to his attention that truly did give him pause. Under the guise of what those westerners who so self-deluded themselves and called ‘Sigeran’ they acclaimed him god of undying warriors. It was useful that was of no doubt and it was something that mortal kind seemed to value beyond what services he provided in the afterlife, ungrateful as that seemed to Thaa after all. Regardless to truly become a god in charge of those who cannot die, or rather perhaps those influenced by his deific power to go beyond death and continue in action on Galbar? That did seem to work much better, perhaps not the best situation but it could also serve to aid those who had died, to give them a chance to achieve peace as Thaa most certainly knew many still felt drawn and tied to things left unfinished on Galbar.

But yes, to focus on the east first and through that acquire a more thorough claim to that power of the undead as it may come to be, that would have to be his focus for now. Thaa drew souls close to him, peering into one of the many towers of Aquibeophates as the realm shifted to accommodate the god. The souls of the east, or more precisely formerly of that region in the highlands. Humans were likely the best bet, although others had such interesting qualities to pursue at later dates it seemed that some of the other deities were most preoccupied with these most widely spread bunch.

It was easy enough to copy the form of a helm that they find familiar, but golden in color and crested with vibrant red threads, better than what they make so that it might enthrall them. It would have to be tough of course, a measure helpful for those wearing the helm as human heads always seemed so fragile, a perspective enhanced by the numbers of dead as a result of a head wound. Additionally of course the initial worry of the death of said individual who so wore the helm and to further secure a broadness of power over undeath and all that is so concerned there to make the wearer undying in the heat of combat.

Speaking of combat, Thaa conducted death energies to flow into the Helm, its wearer could command such things to make Bale Flame like that breath of the dragons yet to be released to Galbar. A powerful tool in many circumstances he had no doubt they would find it. Additionally a few things of utility, a soul capturing mechanism and one of soul sight, both things he had done or commanded done before of course but in this singular artifact it may prove additionally useful.

Now that such a golden and crested helm was so complete and empowered it just left sending it to Galbar, and making sure it was noticed of course.

Thaa grabbed the helm and drew back a massive arm that comprised many bodies. Death energies swirled around his fist as he prepared his throw, a portal to the North Eastern highlands, a forest of some kind. It mattered not which kind, just that it was something living to make a fuss. He threw.

In a forest far in the Eastern highlands, where even Acadia was a western land, but yet were humans still lived, often murderously against other races. In that forest came a massive explosion of green flame, spiraling into the air and out in the forest, trees died roots intact. Bushes and grasses withered, animals of all kinds ran if could, died where they stood, or sickened slowly after such an exposure if they escaped the initial blast although the effects faded quickly. One could trace it back into the forest, where the corpses of animals and plants alike, centering on a simple rock which a golden helm sat ajar after landing.

Thaa drew his attention away as the portal fully closed, he drew upon his own powers to claim dominion over the undead, he had much more work to do if he was to make the world a better place. Hopefully his little gift might do some good in any case.


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Brundt




He passed with the night. Which night was... Uncertain. For the past week King Amurat the Third’s loyal guards had held the door to his room, forbidding anyone to pass into his chambers. This wasn’t unheard of given the rotund King’s habit of occasionally sequestering himself, and given the news he’d received just before doing so? It was understandable.

Even if... Inconvenient. At the Lord Captain’s order an army had, some time ago, been dispatched without the King’s permission. It would have reeked of sedition, if the Lord Captain hadn’t been so transparent about his desire for vengeance against the barbarians that’d killed his son. Even still, it was a hideous slight to the King, but that in of itself that hadn’t driven the King into seclusion. No, that had happened when word reached the city that the Lord Captain had not only been defeated in the field, but had his entire force destroyed. By barbarians. A barbarian king. Or at least, that was what they said.

What they said was more than Amurat could handle, evidently. These days the King rarely moved, and court was often held at his bedside, but at his word both noble and guard were banished from his presence. That had been a week ago. A person might think a city of tens of thousands wouldn’t be paralyzed by a single man's tantrum. That person would be wrong. No soldiers had been rallied. No legions raised.

For an entire week nobody dared bother the king. It was only now that the smell had become so much worse than normal that anyone had dared check on their sovereign. What they had found was the stuff of nightmares. Left to fester in his magically warmed chambers the King had bloated to such an extent that he more resembled a ball than a man. When the high nobles of the city finally gathered only the first few dared look. Those poor soul’s expressions were proof enough.

It was a tragedy, something that had come at the worst possible time. Or, as some refused to admit in public, the greatest opportunity at the time it was most desperately needed. Amurat had consigned the city to anarchy when he’d ordered the Guard not to intervene in religious affairs. Who was to say he’d run a war any better? It wasn’t an uncommon thought.

Nor was that the King had died without an heir. Perhaps, in another time, that wouldn’t have been so shocking. As it stood though? Amurat’s line had ruled Ketrefa for near three hundred years. Successions had not been a point of contention in all that time. Mainly because, as many cynically noted, the Kings and Queens of the great city only ever had one child. Even if they had many.

There was, eventually, only one. A helpful trick to avoid dynastic infighting, but one decidedly less useful to those left behind when the system collapses. Amurat had had a daughter, but she was dead. He had not sired a child since. So, as the many nobles of Ketrefa gathered in the Royal Palace at the top of the city, the great question on every mind was thus: Who is the ruler of Ketrefa?

For the first time in over a decade, Milos Karras set foot inside the palace. Such a rare occurrence would have drawn more than a few eyes, if not for the man standing next to him.

“No!” a lady shouted. “You can’t bring that thing in here!”

Brundt turned his head and glared at her. The sight of his scarred face made her gasp. He wore all the finery of a wealthy noble, but nonetheless seemed out of place.

“Brundt is the heir to House Karras,” Milos said flatly. “A house that is older, more prestigious, and dare I say wealthier than yours. Has your family fallen so low that you forgot your place?”

“Have you forgotten your senses!?” the lady shouted. “He is-”

“A strong man with a sharp mind and a stout heart,” Grandmaster Varsilis said, stepping through the crowd. “I dare say we will need such a man, in the days to come. Let it be known that the House of Perfection vouches for him, and to insult his honour or his competence would be to insult Cadien’s judgement. Now, both of you, carry on. This is not the time for such drama.”

Carry on they did, though the woman sent Milos a parting hateful glare. Brundt himself was silent, his face kept carefully neutral. He resented the woman’s words, but in truth he himself did not feel like he belonged here.

They carried on into the throne room and found their places. More nobles trickled in, until at last the room was overflowering. The gilded and cushioned throne was empty, the Opal Crown resting on its cushions. In front of stood a short, reedy man by the name of Nimos Laventis. He was from an unremarkable family, but had somehow managed to become the King’s steward; tasked with recording the collection of revenues and resources.

It was he who had called this meeting. Someone had to. There was no set procedure for what to do when the monarch died heirless. That the normally meek and hesitant steward would be the one to call it came as a shock. But, at least with him hosting it, there was little chance of foul play; he was never particularly ambitious. He was just high-ranking enough to be worth listening to from time to time, and just low-ranking enough to have no chance of claiming the throne for himself. Now, everyone looked to him expectantly.

His lips moved, but the words were lost over the gossip. Then he shouted. It was a rare thing for him to raise his voice. The room went quiet, and all heads turned to face him.

“We are g-gathered here today,” he began, his voice somewhat shady. “To decide the matter of… succession. The King has no heirs, and we are at war. The matter must be decided swiftly.”

There was a pause, as the room waited for him to continue, but it seemed he had no further words. The silence went on for far too long.

“How are we to decide it, then?” One lord finally asked, stepping forward.

“We… we shall vote on it,” Lord Leventis decided. “Who wishes to make their case?”

Dozens spoke at once. Some tried to make their case. Others protested the vote itself. Noble lords cited their lineages, or their personal accomplishments. Vague mentions were made of improving the city’s wealth or reducing crime, without clarifying how. Suggestions were raised, both sound and terrible. Promises were made, both sincere and false. It all blended together into a cacophony of rhetorical nonsense. Nimos Leventis paled, clearly uncertain of how to proceed.

“Quiet!” A voice cried over the others in the room. The High Judge of the House of Order, backed by a small cadre of her peers, somehow managed to speak over the arguments and bickering, “Leventis has called a vote, but that doesn’t mean all of you can run. I’m withdrawing the House of Order or it’s initiates from any pool of candidates, and I expect the intelligent ones among you to do the same, if you haven’t the resources to take this seriously.”

Her words were met with more silence. Then, Grandmaster Varsilis stepped forward. “This vote is a waste of time,” he declared. “A Ketrefan army was beaten and broken. While we bicker over the crown, our enemies move against us. We don’t need a King. We spent the last twenty years without one.” His tone was bitter as he shook his head. “What we need is a Lord-Captain. Someone who can raise an army to lead it to victory. Leave the city in the hands of the advisors, and settle the throne after this crisis is over. Those who would claim the kingdom should first do their part to defend it..”

The High Judge nodded her agreement, and one who’d been conspicuously silent spoke. The Captain of the Gates, a figure more than capable of upending this entire affair, voiced his opinion, “The Grandmaster is right. If you want the crown, kill the Barbarians and their King, not each other.”

There were several murmurs at that. The younger and more hot-headed among the nobles had a gleam in their eyes, no doubt dreaming about winning glory on the battlefield. Others - those who were too old to fight, or were unskilled in the art of war - looked sullen or resentful. But the majority seemed to be in favour of the idea.

“How are we to decide the Lord-Captain, then?” a voice asked. “Shall we vote on that?”

“I have a better idea,” Varsilis said. “We let Cadien decide. Who better than the patron god of our soldiers to decide who leads them?”

“The gods don’t speak to mortals, Grandmaster!” a voice shouted, but Varsilis ignored it.

“In the Temple of Cadien, there is a hammer,” he went on. “Everyone here knows of it. Decades ago, when it first appeared, I announced its existence to the city. It is made by a metal our smiths have never seen before, and none but those who are worthy may lift it. I issued a challenge, for every man and woman within this city to come try it. Of those who made an attempt, none succeeded. Not even I, with the Ring of Cadien and the enhanced strength it provides.”

He slammed a fist into his palm. “I propose that we try again. We have fresher faces now, and those who failed all those years ago have hopefully grown wiser with age. We shall choose our army’s commander from those who can lift the hammer, and if none succeed, we will find a different method.”

The High Judge and Captain of the Gate’s both voiced their assent, and although many - especially those who had converted to the Cult of the Horned Goddess - disagreed, the united front was more than enough to stifle any protests.

And so, the nobles of Ketrefa began their march to the Temple of Cadien.



The Temple, although lavish and luxurious, was smaller than the palace, and unable to fit so many highborn in one place. Those of less prestigious families had to wait outside, or in the various side rooms. Some seized the opportunity to take advantage of the temple’s other services, and sought out massages, or unsuccessfully attempted to flirt with the temple’s acolytes. Meanwhile the crowd had parted to allow a line of people to form, leading directly to the altar - all those who wished to make an attempt to lift the hammer.

One by one, they approached the altar. One by one, they grasped the hammer. One by one, they failed. Eventually, the nobles began to grow bored, and chatted amongst themselves. Only a few paid any attention to what happened at the altar. Many actually began to go outside for fresh air, leaving space for those who had to stand outside to finally go in… only to be disappointed. Some had actually gone home.

Hours had passed. Some had taken note of the tall, black-haired, scarred man standing in the line. Those in front of him or behind him told him he shouldn’t even bother. A barbarian, even one who learned to read and dress well, was still a barbarian. Some found it amusing, that he thought he had a chance. But he had glared at him, and that had been enough to intimidate them into silence.

Then, finally, his turn came. He wrapped his hand around the hammer’s shaft…

...and lifted it, as if it was nothing.

“Oh fuck, he wasn’t lying,” The High Judge muttered, and then the room exploded. Nobles who saw the feat screamed of fraud, and those who didn’t started screaming to see what happened and who was lying about what. The temple had been secured by the Guard, and with a nod from the Captain of the Gates they immediately began breaking up the crowd, often mercilessly and without respect to their birth.

The Captain, Trehe Manzprius, allowed his men to terrorize the stunned nobles for a self indulgent moment before he spoke, his wrinkled face seizing the attention of Guard and Nobility alike, “The Lord Captain has been chosen. Until a king is selected there is no higher authority. There isn’t time to protest, you will accept the verdict or I will see you made to accept it.”

Despite his words, as soon as he was finished the explosion resumed. It was quieter now, as there were some who had been fine with the decision in the first place, and others who were now cowed by the Gate-Captain’s words.

“He’s a savage!”

“He’s never even fought a battle!”

“You can’t force us to follow him!”

“I never even agreed to this!”

“SILENCE!” a deep baritone voice boomed like a thundercrack, from within the very minds of those assembled. All gasped and stared in astonishment.

It was Grandmaster Varsilis who recovered first. He exchanged a glance with Milos, and then Brundt. All three men had heard that voice before. He stepped up next to Brundt.

“You agreed,” he said, “to follow Cadien’s champion. The one who could lift the hammer. It was a majority vote. The God of Perfection chose this man, and who are you to disagree? Retract your decision or insult Him further, and you invite His wrath.” He glared harshly at those who had objected the loudest. “Now, all of you. Go. The matter has been settled. When the call to arms comes, I expect you to answer.”





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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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Celebration of Hate





The glow of the large bonfire blazed like a beacon in the dark forest. Smoke billowed up at the bright moon above, as if to caress the pale light with wispy hands. Lost forever in the Blackness between.

It was there they celebrated the winter solstice.

Adorned with furs, bright colors, headdresses, animal skulls and more, the tribe celebrated. There was laughter as much as there was silent contemplation to the gods and spirits.

And dancing. So much dancing.

“Come on Yalka! Dance with me!” Rorik smiled ear to ear, pulling on her deerskin sleeves. Yalka rolled her icy eyes, she hated dancing. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good at it, she just… Tripped over her own feet.

"You know I don't like dancing!" She retorted with a grin. Rorik did have a cute smile, maybe it wouldn't hurt?

"Oh come on you." He laughed, pulling her into the circle. The beating of the drums quickened and the two stopped in front of the other, before moving with the rhythm of the drums in a circle around and around each other. Chanting began with whoops and hollering.

Both smiled as their bodies touched at the height of the beat. Eyes focused, the temptation palpable as she glanced at his lips ever so often. Their heads moved closer, his breath warm. Her heart began to best fast as their lips tou-

There was a scream.

The mad drumming stopped. The singing ceased and the laughter was silenced. All eyes turned to where the screaming had come from. Yalka pulled away from Rorik to see… Rudia. It was Rudia, backing away from the edge of the clearing in haste. Her black hair was disheveled and her furs ripped in several places, as if she had run through a bramble.

Yalka followed her gaze from where she stood, the silence becoming deafening as she stared into the dark forest. She didn’t have to wait long, she could feel her heart begin to beat even faster, her palms becoming sweaty as a feeling of intense dread overcame her. She wanted to run from that feeling. Far, far away. Rorik grabbed her arm, his touch reassuring as he too looked into the forest.

And there, emerging from the black into the flickering light was a creature she had never seen before. It was no troll, and not a man. It was too tall to be a man and it had wings like a bird. Giant wings. It came to a stop, never lifting its haze from Rudia as she turned to run back into a group of hunters. She hid behind them, her soft sobs the only sound beside the flame crackling.

Many began to whisper that it was a spirit. She had never seen one before but the stories of those that had, had never mentioned they were so tall. In fact, they were small. Like tiny humans with wings.

Chief Valgro made his way closer, behind him trailed a handful of hunters and a few brought elder Rans with them. They stopped a good ways away from it. Seeing Rans however, Yalka pushed forward but Rorik caught her again.

"Let me go." She hissed.

"No, Yalka. Let them handle it. Rans would not want you there and you know it. He would want his granddaughter safe." Rorik held onto her arm tightly and she fell back, pressing herself to him as she watched with wide eyes. Rorik was right of course but she couldn't shake that feeling of dread.

They seemed to be talking to it and it was talking back, though she could not hear what they were saying. Rans stepped forward, leaning heavily on his stick with one hand and raising his other as he spoke. Whatever he said, seemed to be working. As the spirit began to back away.

As it turned to leave however, it paused and spun around. This time, several men buckled as the spirit's gaze fell upon them and a few ran. Valgro stepped forward, brandishing his spear as the Spirit came forward again. Yalka's heart beat faster but Valgro struck the creature hard enough for sparks to fly. It paused and time seemed to slow down. Before she knew it, a large weapon struck Valgro in the head, exploding it into a fine mist and before anyone could react, the spirit swung again, striking Rans down.

Yalka screamed and broke free from Rorik, running as fast as she could to her grandfather. The tribe exploded into a frenzy of action after that. Woman and children screamed, men yelled to run and fight and the spir- No, the daemon struck down two more hunters as she neared. It turned to her but simply laughed as it beat its wings, flying into the air and over her. The gust flung her down but she quickly rebounded, clambering to her feet as she stumbled over to Rans.

She fell to her knees beside the old man, who's torso and furs were covered in blood. He was not breathing.

"No no NO!" She screamed, face twisted into anger as she looked to find her quarrel. It fought several hunters, bashing them down one at a time, letting their spears hit over and over. It roared madly but it would soon cry out in pain!

Yalka grabbed a spear and ran at the thing. She dodged and weaved through panicking tribesmen and by the time she had arrived where the daemon was, the hunters around him were dead. And more alarming was that it's helmet as well as its weapon lay on the ground beside it. Yet it was no longer even fighting but going through the feast pots.

Now it was her chance, while it was distracted. She hated her spear, yelled a war cry and watched as it turned to face her. A face pale as snow and distant as the far ices looked at her with disdain. She flung the spear anyways and her aim was true. It plunged itself into it's exposed throat with a sickening gurgle.

The daemon flung its head back, leaning over about to topple. She knew it. But her heart stopped as it wrapped a hand around the wooden shaft and wrenched the spear free. Orange blood gushed from the wound and before her very eyes, the fatal wound closed shut. The daemon frowned as it dropped the spear.

It tilted its head to the side before looking around her before settling on her gaze. "Look around, little human. You are alone." It said.

She did just that and it was true. All around her was corpses. Not one living person in sight. Where was Rorik? Was he dead?

"Your aim was true, I'll give you that. Perhaps it deserves a reward?" The daemon smiled, revealing pearly teeth.

She tried to run but her knees buckled and she felt woozy. She looked up at the creature as it approached, wanting to scream for help but her voice caught in her throat and her world faded to black.




She tasted blood. Rubbing her hand to her nose, she looked down to see a fine trail of crimson. She spit, a gush of pink and red spittle fell across the white snow. Grimacing, a flare of anger welled up inside. She eyed daggers at the smug face of Dale and let out a howl of fury as she swung like a mad man at him.

Dale dodged the first few swings but got backhanded by a third and reeled back, giving her an opening to tackle him to the ground. There they rolled about, boys, girls, and their older peers nagging them on, within the forming circle.

Each was trying to get the upper hand over one another. To pin them and let put a flurry of blows. Dale was stronger then she was but he was also slower and not as quick. His only advantage was that she was tall and he could wrap his hands around her arms easily.

All was looking dire as Dale got on top of her and raised his fists to bring down a blow, but she sprung up her upper torso and headbutted him. There was a loud smack and her ears began ringing but it worked. It stunned Dale just enough to where she was able to push him backwards and get on top. She began to wail on him and that was when she felt another blow on her face.

As she toppled off, she had just enough time to see it was Dale's friends. She instinctively wrapped herself into a ball, protecting her head as they punched and kicked her.

It felt like minutes passed before a voice scattered everyone.

"Kia!" The voice was deep and gruff.

"Get up Kia, they're gone." Rorik nudged her. She opened her eyes and gazed up at the old man. His look of disapproval made her want to curl back up and diseaper but she got up onto her feet feeling sore and looking like a mess.

She lowered her head as Rorik began to speak. "What happened this time?"

She felt her hands ball into fists once more. "Dale he- He insulted me."

"And you thought it wise to fight the chieftain's son? Again?" Rorik raised his voice. "How many times do I have to tell you Kia! Do. Not. FIGHT!"

She raised her own voice now and looked at him with anger in her eyes. "I'm not going to let him-"

"Let him what?" Rorik interrupted. "Let him insult you? Let him poke fun? You're bigger then this Kia! I expected more from y-"

"HE CALLED MY MOTHER THE DAEMON'S WHORE!" She screamed, shaking in rage just at the mere memory.

Rorik looked as if he had been struck by a terrible blow and he deflated with a long sigh.

"I wanted to hurt him, Rorik. I wanted him to feel my pain. Is that so wrong?

Rorik looked her over, his eyes showing the same look of disapproval. One she had grown familiar with. She frowned.

"Let's go home." He said, not waiting for her reply. Kia watched him limp off and looked down at her trembling hands, bits of frost had begun to form. She took a raspy breath and closed her eyes, tightening her hands. Letting the warmth back in, she opened her eyes and knew the frost was gone.

She then hurried after Rorik, wincing in pain as she did.




The next day came and she woke up feeling even worse. Her entire body hurt from the beating, but it couldn't stop her. It wouldn't.

She got up out of bed, put her platinum hair into a tight bun and wrapped herself in her furs. She needed to get to the hot springs and wash up before Rorik made a fuss about hunting. She crept past his sleeping form and made her way out into the brisk early morning. Not even the sun was out yet but she hoisted her pack on her back and grabbed her spear.

By the time she made it to the hot spring caves, the morning sun was peaking out over the tall evergreens. It would be a sunny day, with little warmth.

She thanked the gods when she entered the empty hot springs and quickly pulled her clothes off before dipping into the hot water with a sigh. She splashed her dainty face and ran in her fingers through her hair, and scrubbed grime and dried blood from the rest of her skinny body. She thought about the days past events and couldn't help but furrow her brow just thinking about what Dale said.

He and the others were a bunch of trollkin always, being mean to her. She knew why they did it. She only had to look into the water to see just how different she looked. Not entirely human… Just another freak. Worse… Tainted by the Daemon's blood. She shivered just thinking about it.

She hit the water with a fist and sank back in angry contemplation. As she did, the water rippled across the hot springs, and, for a brief moment, she saw something behind her. Turning around rapidly, there was nothing, but, a soft haze came over her mind, almost as if the spring’s steam had entered in.

”Child of a Daemon, Bastard Spawn, Freak, Different, I do wonder if mortals do tire of using the same words over and over again.” A voice rang out in her head, it was calm, yet filled with joy, and she could not quite identify its gender.

Kia stood up in haste, nearly falling over as she looked around the room. "Who's there!" She shouted in anger, covering herself with her hands. Their words stung and only added to her mounting anger.

”Have no fear my dear,” The voice rang out once more, ”I am, a friend, someone who wishes you no harm, in fact, I have come to help you.”

"Who comes to help by calling names and being too cowardly to show themselves!" She yelled, narrowing her eyes as she looked around again.

A soft chuckle emanated from around her ”You mistake me dear, I mean not to mock you, but those who see if fit to utilize the same old insults again and again, I do grow bored of it after a while, as for showing myself, well, I guess I can give it a shot.”

Suddenly, the steam began to gather and coalesce, forming a strange figure, faceless and lanky, pointed legs with no feet, and a single hole where an eye should go.

”That better?”

She gasped and fell backwards in the water. She emerged shortly after sputtering and breathing hard. The figure was still there and only then did she realize who was talking to her.

"You are a god?" She asked.

Another chuckle ”Yes, I am, and you my dear, have drawn my attention, as your life is, well, very close to my work, and I figured I could not just allow an actor as special as yourself to go unnoticed, and so,” The figure stretched its arms out wide, gesturing towards the spring they were in ”Here I am, a friend, to offer you some help.”

She blushed. "You want to help me?" She asked.

”Why of course! The god loudly proclaimed ”You have so much potential as an actor in this Great Play! A tragic backstory! A motivation to fight those who have oppressed her! I couldn’t have come up with something better myself.” The figure stood, drawing closer to her ”So tell me dear, what is it you desire most?”

"My mother." She blurted out. "I-I desire my mother, oh God." She followed, a wild look in her eyes.

The god was, for a brief moment, silent, then, it spoke, its voice quieter this time ”You desire your mother? I, see.” They were silent for a few more moments. ”I may be able to aid you in that, not directly, that is not my, department persay, but I think I can give you something that’ll help in your future quest.”

"Yes. Please! Anything. I'll do anything! I'll hunt down the Daemon and make him suffer for what he did to her if I have to. I just want her back." She sniffed.

”Very well my dear, now, hold still.” Suddenly, the once intense heat of the springs vanished, replaced by a frigid cold, the figure of the god reached out one of its lanky arms towards her, lightly tapping her upon her forehead. A shiver of cold shot down her spine, settling itself within her. It remained that way for a few brief moments, before the heat returned.

”That, should do it, your inherent powers of ice brought to the forefront, and made, far better if I do say so myself, it’ll take practice, but, I have high hopes for you my dear.”

She stared at her hands, a look of shock crossed her face. "Ice? Oh no. Oh no no. I can't… They'll hate me even more. They'll-They'll… What will Rorik think?" She cried out.

”Worry not my dear,” The god placed one of its arms upon her shoulder, and stared at her with their singular ‘eye’ ”What they think, is of no consequence of you, they hate you, because you are better than them, they are nothing more than useless pieces in the Great Play, but you? You my dear have so much potential, let not their words pierce your heart, instead, use them to harden your resolve, they may sling their useless insults towards you, but you, you shall always have the eyes of the gods upon you, and you shall go on to do far more than they or their descendents ever shall”

His words helped her a bit and she nodded. They would always hate her for what she was, that she knew. Could that change? She did not think so. But Rorik… How would he react?

"What is your name, oh God?" She asked, changing the subject.

”You, may refer to me as Yamat, if you ever require aid, merely pray towards me, and I shall see what I can do.”

"Yes… I will remember that, Yamat. Thank you, for your help." She said in a small voice.

”Of course my dear.” They spoke, and she could almost sense a hint of kindness within. Then, the steam and the haze dissipated, leaving her once more alone within the Hot Springs.

Kia settled back into the pool, unsure of what to think. It would be a long time before she would leave.






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Cadien

&
Neiya




Cadien drummed his fingers on his throne. Something wasn’t right. It had been far, far too long since Neiya had last visited. Had he somehow offended her in their last interaction? Was she distracted? Had she lost interest in him?

He shook that last thought off. Nonsense. Nobody could ever lose interest in him.

Still, it would probably be best if he checked up on her. So, the God rose to his feet and strode toward the door made of rotten and dead wood, pushed it open, and stepped foot into Neiya’s realm.

The change struck him immediately. The once wide open and desolate riverlands were nowhere to be seen. Instead Cadien found himself staring at a cliff face, extending far up into the sky. Stone and gravel crushed underfoot as he walked in, and it quickly became clear his door was now - alongside the ever-shimmering entrance to Antiquity - located on a precipice halfway down a ravine. There was enough room to walk around, though any group would struggle to stand comfortably without daring the edge. Furthermore, even getting between the two entrances required some acrobatics; the two precipices were separated by a good ten feet chasm. No problem for a God under normal circumstances, surely. Far below ran a river not unlike the one that had once featured so prominently in her realm. Now it looked like a thin line snaking through an impossibly distant crevasse.

Cadien had let out a simple approving “hm,” upon seeing the change in his surroundings, followed by a disapproving “hmmmmm” upon seeing how close his door was to the portal to Antiquity. He would have to talk to Neiya about that. But first, he would have to find her.

So, the God leapt off the edge, and transformed. His legs merged together into a tail, a second pair of arms grew from his torso, wings sprouted from his back, and horns jutted from his head resembling a crown. His skin turned purple, and his body grew in size. He started beating his wings as he fell, coming to a stop just before striking the water, and then began to ascend to the top of the cliff.

It was a long flight, and despite his larger form it felt as though the cliff stretched to deny his ascent, the very essence of the stone rising and stretching to continue to challenge him. Still, wings carried him with powerful beats past the edges of the cliff, and up into the sky beyond the plateau. Though he wasn’t that far beyond the ravine’s edge, it looked smaller and smaller beneath him until it was a simple crack in the stone beneath his tail. The stone was a single flagstone on a pathway to a ruined, two-story building - not unlike what you’d find in Acadia - situated in a peaceful valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. On one side stretched withered and forgotten farmlands, on the other, dilapidated sheds and abandoned animal pens. Almost at once, Cadien’s shape was brought into this new reality, his wing beats shaking old wood and pressing weeds low with force. The ravine was barely visible, now that his size was equal to that of this place, it didn’t look like anything but a cracked stone. No one was here either. Wherever Neiya was, she had certainly redecorated.

Cadien sighed. “Neiya, love, where are you?”

"Cadien?” a recognizable voice rang out over his head. Silence prevailed for a single moment, before the frames of the old ruins creaked and shone, and the door to the old house swung open by its own volition. The sight beyond was nothing like expected - indeed, it looked as though it led to another outdoor area, a pavilion and a lake. Even from afar he saw movement in the midst of the pavilion, legs gently sliding into a new resting position. He felt the same forceful tug as the last time he had visited, willing him closer to and through the door unless he resisted. "Come to me, my dearest.”

The door was too small for him in his current state, and so he was forced to transform back into his original form in order to step through. He was beckoned through to a small glen of blooming cherry trees, and a tranquil lake surrounding a marble pavilion. Not given much pause to look at his surroundings, the gentle force coaxed him towards the pavilion with guiding intent.

At its center was a lavish throne, embellished with jewels and gold, and decorated with a rainbow of silks and pillows. A red cloth ran from the throne to the entrance of the pavilion, a beckoning invitation of its own. In the center of all this was a woman who gave off a very recognizable essence, even though her appearance was different. Two long and curved horns curled from her forehead, tucking dark and luscious hair. Gone were the jagged edges, the tangled points, and the asymmetry. Warm pink skin, his lover had assumed a curvaceous but athletic shape, almost fully revealed if not for a few choice garments whose only purpose seemed to be to further emphasize her body. The only distortion of her image was the set of wings resting behind her. Neiya, in her new form, regarded Cadien with gleaming golden eyes, spiraling like the coins minted in the mortal world. "Couldn’t bear to be apart from me, could you?” she voiced with a sultry tone, her leer hinting at an amusement that was absent in the past. She certainly wasn’t frowning.

“You could say that,” Cadien said, and he couldn’t help but admire her new form. “But what about you?”

Neiya rose from her lazy sit, raising long nails to beckon him forwards. This time, the realm did not demand his approach, as Neiya herself instead hovered towards him as if to meet him halfway. Her lips shifted to a pout, but her eyes maintained a conspiratorial, even jesting tint as she glanced away. "Oh, I did not wish to bother you. I thought, perhaps you would forget me if I did not come. You’re a very busy god, my love.”

Unsure if she was serious or not, Cadien chose not to respond to her first comment. “You’ve been rather busy yourself,” he said instead, looking around the room, before his gaze once more settled on her figure.

She looked back at him with the same expression as before, and raised a hand to gently toy with the embellished metal choker around her throat. "Do you like it?” she offered in an ambiguous question. "I’ve made some changes. Taken some additional responsibilities, more in line with who I am.” With that, she began to slide backwards in the air, moving for her throne once more.

“Wait,” Cadien’s hand reached out and gently grasped her wrist. He then adopted a critical expression. “You have chosen a fine form. Very fine. Your best one yet, I dare say. Yet, I can’t help but notice one flaw. A flaw that I myself am guilty of as well, I must admit.”

Neiya gently quirked a brow, eyes drawn down to his grip on her, and then back at his expression. Though she tried her best to remain impassive, her features briefly stained with a frown more closely associated with the haughty and distant expressions common from the goddess. "A flaw? What… what is it?”

Cadien released his grip on the goddess, and the judgemental expression faded - it had never been sincere in the first place. He smiled. “We’re both overdressed.”

In the divine perception of time, Neiya gazed at him for what must have been an eternity. Yellow eyes roamed his features as her own frown shifted to a tinge of surprise. The goddess finally twisted her lips into a small, entertained grin, flashing long canines as she hovered closer to him. Neiya did not relent, pushing her new and improved form against his, parting her lips to speak as her long, pointed tongue extended to briefly touch at his ear. "Anything to please the God of Perfection. Let us amend this, immediately.”



One Eternity Later…

“So,” Cadien said, as he lay next to Neiya on the carpet. “What were these new responsibilities you mentioned earlier?”

Neiya, idly drawing shapes on Cadien’s exposed chest with her nails, surreptitiously cast her golden gaze up towards his face. She paused her gentle toying for a brief moment, humming a thoughtful breath. "Well, I’ve taken a new mantle, helping mortals realize their innermost needs and wants. Things even they might not realize they wish for at first. Help them love themselves, if you wish.”

Cadien furrowed his brow. “Is that so? Hm. Neiya, I do believe it is time that we had a talk…”

"We’re talking right now, aren’t we, my love?” Neiya countered innocently, gazing back down to his chest as she resumed her gentle drawing of invisible shapes. "Is there something that weighs on your mind?”

The God took a deep breath. “I have some misgivings about the way you have interacted with mortals.” he said, and heard Neiya exhale sharply through her nose.

"What of it?” she queried after a few moments of silence.

“Your cult in Ketrefa,” Cadien said, studying her expression carefully.

"Oh,” she began, expression unchanged from a half-focused, lazy peer at his chest as she continued her teasing caress. "That seems like so long ago now, I scarcely recall anything but a devoted few. What about them, my love?” the Goddess explained, and her gaze shifted back to face him head-on, undaunted. Neutral.

Cadien frowned. “They insult my name, teach their followers to reject me, then deface and steal from my temples, all in your name.” His tone was calm, but laced with just the slightest trace of frustration. “They’ve turned entire districts of the city against me.”

Neiya tutted quietly, pursing her lips as she watched him. "My love, you have me right here. Mortals are hardly as bright as you or I. I’m certain they’ll work it out.” she professed with a languid flippancy, and gently daubed her hand against his chest in a brief show of affection. "Besides, can you fault them for being devoted to a love goddess?”

“I can fault them for rejecting all other gods in the process,” Cadien said, his frown deepening. “Neiya, when I spread my teachings to mortals, I do not encourage them to reject or forget other gods. Especially not you. If they do, I correct them.” He paused. “Well, I do teach them to reject that Yamat fellow, but that’s for good reason. Anyhow, all I’m asking is for you to do the same. To prevent such misunderstandings before they can occur.”

Neiya sighed sharply, breaking her gaze away from his. She laid her hand flat on his stomach, pushing herself up slightly to lay her body against his while maintaining distance with her expression. "You lay too much blame on me, love. I’d never ask anyone to reject you. I don’t really speak all that much to mortals. I can send Aveira, if you want.”

“I’m afraid it’s rather late for that,” Cadien admitted. “They have committed far too many crimes against myself and my followers. I’m sorry to say it, but I cannot allow their actions to go unpunished.”

"Why?” she asked sullenly. Golden eyes turned back to stare at him as she turned her head back to face him, chin lifted to match her old moods. "Are you worried devotees of a love goddess will outshine your wood soldiers?”

“Wooden soldiers?” Cadien narrowed his eyes. “Whatever do you mean?”

Neiya scoffed quietly, keeping her gaze locked firmly with his. "You spend too much time worrying about silly things, playing with your humans. If they truly are faithful to Cadien, God of Perfection, surely they won’t be distracted by a few believers refusing to play, no?” Black nails rapped gently on his skin, as the horned goddess shifted against him. "If they can’t handle the pressure, maybe they shouldn’t have your favor.”

He looked at her skeptically. “Did you not just say your new purpose involved helping mortals?”

"Oh, yes, of course.” she admitted quickly, eyes flicking to the side briefly. "But there are many ways to help mortals, my love. I’m not intent on being quite so hands-on as you are. Not yet, anyway.” Neiya sighed softly, and ran her hand up to caress his cheek. "Punish them if you must. Know that each strike is a wound in my heart.”

“The same can be said for me, Neiya,” Cadien said. “And they have been striking for years.” The God fell silent for several long moments before he spoke again. “All I wish is for you to treat me as I treat you.”

Nails ran gently against his skin, caressing his cheek with soft fingertips. Neiya sighed once more. ”Such wounded pride, all by mortals pushing each other around in the dirt. I haven’t communicated with my faithful in Ketrefa for many years. If it matters so much to you, I will intervene.”

“Intervene how?” Cadien asked her curiously.

”Well,” the goddess began conspiratorially, running her hand down to his chest once more. ”What would you like me to do? Hurl thunder? I haven’t practiced my aim, though…”

“Nothing so wrathful, my love,” Cadien chuckled. “In truth, the punishment I issued against them would have depended on how they reacted to the actions of my champion within the city.”

”That’s simple, then. I’ll issue an edict for them to treat your little friend nicely.” the horned goddess concluded with brisk clarity.

Cadien raised an eyebrow. “And to stop defacing or looting my temples? To resume their worship of Ketrefa’s other gods? I do not mind if they place you at the head, but the others deserve to be acknowledged. I’d say I deserve special prominence too, for there is none closer to you than I.”

Neiya lowered her head slowly, laying it against his shoulder and breaking her gaze and expression away. ”I’ll make certain your grievances are brought to their attention.”

The God ran a hand through her hair. “Thank you,” he smiled, then let out a deep breath. “There. That’s over and done with. Now,” he gently moved her head away and rolled onto his side. “What do you say we turn our attention back to more enjoyable activities?”

Neiya settled her golden gaze on his face once more, and twisted her lips into a faint smirk. Both hands laid against his chest, she pushed him back down.






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Carnelian




Carnelian had set out from Thyma with a force of twenty.

Now, he returned with nearly sixty.

As they entered the village, they were looked upon with a mixture of surprise, relief, and confusion. Many had assumed he would not return, either because he had been killed in battle or because he was actually abandoning them. Instead, he and his men had returned in high spirits, with reinforcements. But surely he hadn’t scored a victory?

And yet, he did. “The Ketrefans have been beaten!” he announced in the village square. The crowd - mostly consisting of the warriors he had brought back - cheered in response. Lothat stepped out of the temple and smiled. Once the cheers died down, Carnelian continued speaking. “For every man we lost, we killed twenty in return! Cadien was watching over us. But do not rest easy. The war is still not won, and it will not end until Ketrefa falls. In the meantime, we must gather our strength, and grow our numbers. Next time we face them, they will still be recovering, while we will be stronger than ever!”

“Cadien’s Chosen has spoken!” Lothar declared. “Keep training. Keep working. Everyone must contribute, if we are to win our freedom!”




“Alright…” Carnelian breathed, standing in the chieftain’s longhouse. Lothar, Ingrid, and Yarwick were present, as was Titania, who was neatly laid out on a table. “What next?”

Yarwick frowned. “You won a great victory, at small cost. Whatever you did, do it again, until all of them are dead.”

Carnelian sighed. “It’s not that simple. I only won because Cadien gave us a blessing, and that was only temporary. We don’t know if he’ll give it again.”

“You are his champion, are you not?” Ingrid questioned rhetorically. “Pray to him, and ask.”

Lothar shook his head. “The God of Perfection watches us always, but he answers us rarely. He has given us his aid, but he will not win every battle for us. He does not wish for us to become dependent. I dare say, he may now expect us to win our next battle without his intervention.”

“Besides,” Carnelian shrugged. “I already tried praying, and there was no response.”

“If Cadien does not offer us his guidance, it is because we do not need it,” Lothar said simply. “As Yarwick said, you have won a great victory. By now, every village surrounding Ketrefa will have heard of it. A great host was murdering and pillaging it way through the countryside, and you slew it. The news will rouse the faithful, and all we must do is seek them out… if they don’t seek us out first. Come spring we will have a mighty host, larger than any that has ever been raised.”

Yarwick frowned. “If Cadien does not aid us… we’ve all heard the stories. Dagmar the Defiant. Helga the Butcher. Lesnar Leonheart. Each one tried to fight Ketrefa in the past. Each one thought they had the mightiest army ever raised. And each one was all defeated.”

“They were not Cadien’s Champions,” Lothar countered. “And you forget the boons that have been bestowed upon us already. Even if Cadien does not directly intervene, we still have what he has already given us.” He nodded toward the sword sheathed at Carnelian’s belt.

”You shall have all the aid you need.” Titania’s voice was as firm as the steel in her plates. ”You are the protectors of the innocent who have been molested at the hands of this foe Ketrefa. This earns you the favour of me - Titania!” Her impossible grin was palpable.

“What sort of aid can you provide?” Carnelian asked her.

The armour flexed metaphorically. ”Whatever you need in terms of armour - by Gibbou, you shall have it! Nothing shall stop the saviours of the innocents from their mission to defend those that cannot defend themselves!” There came a pause. ”For that’s what you’re doing, right?”

“Aye, that’s what we’re doing,” Yarwick nodded.

“Those bastards will rue every raid they’ve ever sent,” Ingrid vowed.

Carnelian, meanwhile, had only nodded slightly.

”Then all is as it should be. The Ketrefan despots will be dethroned, and their reign of terror shall come to an end! Wearer, put me on! We march at first light!”

Carnelian blinked in surprise. “Now is not the time to march,” he said. “It’s nearly winter. We’ll have to wait until spring.”

“We won’t be standing idle, though,” Lothar said. “While our forces ready themselves here, we must travel the land, spread the word of our victory, and seek out new allies.”

The armour stared blankly. ”Noted. Then we shall march at first light - to the surrounding villages to garner support! All part of the great quest to free the Highland’s people from the wicked grasp of Ketrefa!” She sounded a triumphant ‘hoo-hah!’

“Indeed,” Carn said wearily. He looked out the window, where warriors and villagers alike celebrated the victory. “First light, then.”






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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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The Merchant Kings 1 - A Grand Republic




Rach Rose sat upon a baqualo-skinned pillow in his garden, admiring the moonlight shine upon his roses. They took on his violet hue that was simply impossible to replicate with any other flavour, especially when taking the fragrance into account. In his hand, he held a cup of hot flower tea, wagging it thoughtfully around as he took in the surroundings. To think, the young king had so easily and foolishly abandoned his house’s claim to the throne. He had expected far too much from him - Turmerick was even more naive than anyone could have imagined. Oh, sure, the queen and princess had both come to plead for him to forget all about the young king’s words, but they both knew it had been for naught. A groundbreaking reform in the Fragrancian leadership was about time, too - monarchy was a much-too-archaic form of government; they would learn from the Akuans, instead - have a government ruled by the people.

Rach Rose pursed his lips. The right people, of course.

Still, for such reform to take place, they would need guidance - it would be no simple task to unite the rachsas to form a government. With a king, at least, one had someone to mediate when negotiations went sour between them - now, he would have to rule alongside the other rachsas to govern Fragrance. He could at least take solace in the fact that none of the rachsas were strong enough to single-handedly overpower all the others; his, which was the strongest, would need the support of at least two other major houses.

His thoughts brought sweat to his forehead - he had had such plans, but he had not expected the prince to mess everything up -this- fast. Many of his ideas could not be hastened anymore than they already had been. He would have to focus first on suppressing the inevitable public outrage whenever the news of the king’s decision would leak. He thought of his future colleagues in government - he would have to send couriers to all of them soon. He had sent couriers already to his closest allies, asking them to come to his mansion. He needed as many friends as he could get in these times of change.

Approaching footsteps pulled him out of his thoughts. The soles were soft sandals, worn with a gentle, yet firm gait - a sudden clash of lavender to challenge his roses heralded the approach of his heart. Rach Rose found himself grinning giddily and rose from his pillow to greet the guest.

“Lavender, my heart - I knew you would come,” rach Rose breathed affectionately. Approaching him came a lean, well-groomed man with skin like the night sky, hair like coal and eyes like stars - pahrk Lavender, one of the rach’s most prized soldiers.

“Of course, I would come - what would I not do for you, my Rose?” Lavender responded and the two met in a long, passionate kiss. Their hands massaged at each other’s necks and fingers dragged softly through their hair. Rose brought one of his hands to Lavender’s chest and gently broke away from the kiss, leaning his forehead against his.

“You have no idea how much I’ve missed you of late…” whispered the rach. Lavender tittered.

“Yeah, judging from your kwaxl, you’ve been through quite a lot.” He planted a kiss on his forehead. “Did you think about me during the battle of Monsax?”

Rach Rose pulled away slightly. “You know I could’ve died there, right?”

“But you did think about me in those times of danger, yes?”

The rach turned away and his dark blue cheeks darkened further in a blush. “... Yes…” Lavender tittered smugly and flicked his right wrist towards the left. A woosh of wind caught a pillow sitting by a nearby saloon table and brought it over next to the rach’s. The warrior then proceeded to sit down. Rach Rose clicked his tongue in approval.

“Wow, your x’ao-kaom really -has- improved, huh,” he mumbled softly as Lavender crossed his arms over his chest.

“What, did you doubt me?”

“Well, when you write ‘I feel like I can move heaven and earth’, I’d still say you might’ve exaggerated a liiiittle bit - but it’s clear you’ve made progress.” Lavender rolled his eyes and chuckled; the rach joined in. “By the way, are you thirsty? Hungry? Can I get you anything?”

“A meal and some tea would be wonderful, my heart.” Rach Rose nodded and clapped his hands. The bead-curtain door to the main house was gently pushed aside and out peeked the head of the rachfi. Rach Rose turned his torso to face her. Lavender offered her a greeting click, which the rachfi echoed in response.

Oio’j is thirsty and hungry. Bring us some more tea and… Would you like something sweet or salty, Lav?”

“Ooh, the sage says I eat too much sun and noise - something sweet and quiet would be lovely.”

Rach Rose clicked approvingly. “My, you read my thoughts. Rachfi, bring us two servings of maokl, and go easy on the cinnamon. Oh, and another pot of tea, my love - let’s keep it to jasmine.”

The rachfi clicked in acknowledgement and ducked back inside. Lavender smirked and leaned back on his large pillow. “I should find myself a woman soon. Must be nice to have someone to take care of the house.”

“Oh, certainly,” rach Rose agreed and slurped quietly at the rim of his still-half-full teacup. “She’s given me quite the flock, too. Five sons and three daughters - can you imagine?”

Lavender looked up at the night sky. “No, I really can’t… A fertile and obedient lady such as her is a rare gift, my heart - your legacy is secure. Speaking of…” He offered Rose a knowing click. “Congratulations on inheriting the kingdom of Fragrance!”

Rose chuckled politely. “Now, now, it’s not like I’m the sole regent. Not that I would want to be, either.” He sighed and balanced his chin on his fist. Lavender offered him a look and placed his head on his shoulder softly.

“You work hard, my heart - no one sees just how much you do for Fragrance.” Rach scoffed playfully, but Lavender touched his cheek gently. “No, I mean it! King Safron was, well, not a very good king - we both know that. He was quick to temper, had no idea how to control his heir Cinna, and when he banished that brat, he got himself killed before he could even teach his youngest the basics of rulership. Trust me - you have saved Fragrance -a lot- of trouble.” His whisper became even fainter. “Besides, you know what would’ve happened if the boy had become king - the Nilla rachsa would’ve gobbled him up in an instant; we would never have seen him again. Now, the Nillas have just as much control of the situation as we do - probably even less.” He planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’m so proud of you.”

Rach Rose blinked. “I’m… Surprised you’ve been paying this much attention to politics. Have you been around different crowds since you went to Scenta?” Lavender chuckled, then offered a half-hearted groan.

“Ugh, I wish. It’s my master, Hyasynth, constantly pushing news down my throat from all around the country. I just want to learn how to cast spells - I don’t, i don’t need all this.” He made a ‘prrt’ with the lips. “Although, it does help me stay up to date with what you’ve been up to when you don’t write to me.”

“Would you like me to write more often?”

“Pfft, please don’t - I can only handle so much of the city drama before I go mad. Although, I do think you should get back into poetry - you have a gift, I tell you!”

Rose blushed. “N-no, that was just, just a phase.”

“Come ooon, Rosey - do it for me, man!”

“Oh, you’re such a cliché romantic…” Rose muttered to the sound of Lavender flexing his arms.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not just romantic - I -am- romance itself. Have I not the physique of the heroes of old? Come on, praise me, heart, praise me.”

Rose scoffed and took his hand, bringing it to his lips. “You’re such an idiot…”

“You used to write poetry, my love?” came a feminine voice behind them. Rachfi Belladonna Rose knelt down beside the rach with a tray in her hands, upon which was a fresh clay pot steaming tea, two clay plates, each topped with a portion of round, mushy cake, and a cup for Lavender. Rach Rose offered Belladonna a polite click.

“I did, yes… For a time.” The rachfi gave him a hopeful look and gasped softly in anticipation, but the rach looked away from her and sucked thoughtfully on a tooth. “It’s a very private matter, though. I’ve made no promises to start again.”

Lavender raised his brows at Rose and forced a soft chuckle. “Don’t mind him, Bella - he’s tired from work today.”

The rachfi’s hope dissipated and she offered a solemn click of acknowledgement. “I… I understand.” She rose to her feet. “Please, enjoy your meal, you two,” she said with a bow and walked back towards the house.

“Belladonna, my love?” The rachfi spun around with clapped her hands softly to indicate anticipation and attention. The rach frowned slightly. “Please keep your xuakla close in case we require entertainment. We will likely be sitting for a while.”

The rachfi scrunched her nose and clicked in acknowledgement before bowing again and stepping into the main house. The rach and pahrk both grabbed their plates and gave the cake a taste. Lavender offered a soft sigh. “I think you should treat her a little better, actually.”

Rose smacked his lips in surprise. “Are you saying I treat her poorly?”

Lavender swallowed his bite. “No, no - you’re good and polite to her, but, well… She’s given you, as you said, quite the flock, and she is obviously quite faithful to you. Don’t you think that warrants some additional reward of sorts?”

Rose sipped his teacup with a frown. “Well, I provide for her and our family and allow her to stay at my property - in return, she serves me as any good fiya’j would. I even go out of my way to celebrate her birthday and to honour her fidelity and worth every X’ao-x’ei. What, are you saying she should have a wage, as well?”

“Hey, hey, no need to get upset, my heart,” Lavender whispered calmly. Rose looked away, and his husband cupped his chin in his hand and turned his face to his own. “Look, if you feel like you are doing your duty to her as her oia’ssi, then I won’t question it. It’s just… I think you could be happier with her if you opened up a little more - saw her as more than just fiya’choi, then maybe…?”

Rose sucked disapprovingly on his teeth. “It’s just… I don’t want you to think I’m not faithful to you.” Lavender scoffed.

“What, you think I’d be jealous of your wife? Wow, if you want -that- sort of relationship with a woman, hooo-kay!”

“Ugh! I’m being serious here, Lav!”

“So am I, my heart!” The pahrk placed his hand on Rose’s chest and cocked his head playfully to the side. “I know what kind of love we have for one another. You treating fiya’choi as a nelven being instead of a slave won’t change any of that.”

Rose shrunk a little. “You realise what kind of looks I’ll get from the other rachs, right? Their rachsas?” Lavender scoffed again.

“Looks-scmooks - look at the Nillas. They’re strong because they work together as friends, maybe even lovers - not as master and servant. You said it yourself in your message: You need friends more than ever. Maybe you should start at home, hmm?”

The rach sighed. “Is that why I’ve felt the Nillas are so… Queer?”

“Yup. There’s power in relationships, my heart - even between a man and his wife.”

The rach sucked in a slow breath. “Ugh, I hate it when you make sense.”

“Hey, just because I am a mountain of muscle does not mean I am without brains. The moon has blessed me with wisdom to rival a sage.”

“Alright, easy there, shadowtiger…” Rose looked over his shoulder. “Belladonna, my love?” In a heartbeat, the rachfi peeked out of the curtain door once more. Rose looked visibly uncomfortable, but an encouraging kiss from Lavender empowered him once more. “Would… Would you like to join us for some tea?”

The rachfi gasped as quietly as she could, which wasn’t very quietly at all, and popped back inside. Rose sucked in a breath through the teeth. “Maybe it was too much all at once?”

Lavender shook his head as there came a ruckus from inside the hut, followed by Belladonna hurrying over to sit beside her husband, xuakla faithfully in hand and a white-toothed smile on her dark purple face. “No, I think it was just right,” the warrior offered and took another sip of tea. The three of them spent the rest of the night giggling over stories, and Belladonna even told some herself in between her gentle music. Rose had to confess eventually - she did make him happy.


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Reflections in the Ice





Time had passed quickly since that fateful day in the hot springs. Yamat's words hung heavy in her heart. She began to observe those around her, more and more. She hardly interacted with the others in the tribe, but when she did it always went one of two ways. They would either ignore her presence and brush her off, or degrade and curse her.

The children and those around her age were the worst still. She avoided them at all costs and ran away several times when she saw Dale and his group. They would beat her again if they caught her. Dale was not one to let things go, especially knowing that she had bested him. She had a bad feeling it would only be a matter of time before they caught her unaware.

Thus, she spent much of her time alone out in the wild. It was a convenient excuse to practice her new powers, as Rorik did not mind when she returned with game. It was when she came back empty handed that it bothered him, but Kia knew there was no use making a fuss about it. Rorik could not do much with his busted leg, and the winters lay heavily on him still, thus he lashed out. She had grown used to it.

While she was out, he spent most of his time whittling and crafting items for the tribe. People got along well enough with him, but there was always animosity. He didn't get along well with Hadrin, the chief, either.

Out in the forests however, Kia left it all behind. She was happy there. Being alone didn't bother her and she knew how to survive thanks to Rorik. Now, she could do so much more.

An icicle slammed into a tree, embedding itself into the wood. It was about the size of a bone dagger and growing larger with each passing day. Kia smirked and launched another one from the cold air. It struck the first and exploded into a cloud of shards. Next, she summoned a small ball of packed ice into her hand, feeling the familiar cold surge in her spine. She concentrated, brow furrowing as she lifted it into the air. She placed her other hand over the ball, not touching still, then moved it so it was in front of her. She forced the ice inside to change, and it erupted into spikes, shifting and reflecting the sun. Kia then slapped her hands together and felt the ice incase her left hand. She lifted it up high and noted that it wasn't cold. She tried to move her fingers but they were stuck.

She pursed her lips and placed her other hand over the ice, then forced it to fall off. It shattered and fell to the ground. A sigh escaped her and she flexed her fingers.

"SO this is where you've been hiding daemon spawn." Erupted a voice from behind her. Kia's eyes went wide and she spun around to see Dale and his friends emerging from behind the trees, sneering at her with smug little smiles. It was enough to make her blood chill. How much had they seen?

"Did you think you'd be able to hide forever? I had to lie to father just to save face. But this time." He and a few of the other unsheathed bone knives. "This time you won't walk away with bruises, daemon." He spat.

Kia began to panic, and began to back up as they walked closer. She needed to run and so she began to but Dale shouted after her, "What's the matter daemon spawn? Afraid you'll lose? Just like your mother lost?"

She froze. Fists clenching tight as she spun around. The familiar feeling of anger blossomed in her chest. "Take that back! You have no right to talk about my mother like that!" She growled.

Dale smirked, twirling his dagger between his fingers. "I have every right, I'm the chief's son! Your mother should have been killed the minute she began carrying you. I'm glad she died. And now, you'll join her and the Daemon's taint will be gone from this tribe."

She began to shake with anger. Something felt as if it was going to burst inside of her. She wanted to hurt him. She wanted to force him to take his words back. Make him suffer for the pain he caused. Years of issues boiled to the surface without thinking about them. Suddenly, each moment, each point of contention and frustration in the world rushed at her at once, stung her eyes, clutched at her lungs and quickened her breath.

Dale became a blurry shape, an evil responsible for all the world's injustice. Each shift of his smug grin sent ripples of boiling blood through her arms, each breath of his asking to be beaten out of him until nothing of his disgusting face remained. Her fists itched with a fury welling up from inside, a darkness begging to come out and set the world right; and break their jaws. A red haze fell over her eyes, over her thoughts. Dale was scum. Hurting him was a need, a pressing itch burrowed deep into her marrow. He leered at her, and something rippled inside her. He had to suffer.

Each breath became visible as the area around them grew colder. It was then that Kia pounced. Throwing caution to the wind she ran forward with a roar. She then summoned a wave of ice that erupted from the ground like jagged spikes, stretching out before her until they collided with the first row of her attackers in an explosion of ice and shrieks.

She wasn't finished though. Not until her fingers were wrapped around the scum's neck. Kia ran through the maze of icicles, propelling herself further with each step. She used the ice to her advantage and cast it aside when it would not suit her.

Her quarry were dazed by her assault, and with a few more steps she was upon them. The first few had been felled by her icicles but the next fell to her fists. Using the trick from earlier, she coated her hand in a thick layer of ice and used it to maximum effect. Each blow was a relief, no- a satisfaction to ease her pain. They deserved this and she would enjoy it! She smashed her fist into someone's face, something broke and it wasn't her ice. Whoever it was dropped but the next one she tried to punch was waiting and he dodged to her left, cutting her arm as he slashed forward. Kia grunted and before he was able to pull back an icicle shot out from the ground and slammed into him, tossing him into the air where he then landed with a snap. His screams fell upon deaf ears as Kia took down everyone else with another ice wave that emanated from where she stood, rippling outwards and causing those standing to fall.

No one attempted to stand, but they did look at her with horrified eyes. She did not care. She wanted Dale but he was not a face she recognized amongst the fallen. Her eyes shot to the woods from where they had come from and she took off in pursuit. What a coward. What an insolent little wretch! He couldn't even stand to fight her!

It didn't take Kia long before she spotted him in the distance, barreling his way through a thick drift of a snow. She reached out and froze his legs. He fell face forward from the sudden momentum stop. Dale began to claw at his legs, trying to free himself. Kia could hear his panicked breaths as she neared, walking now.

"S-STAY AWAY FROM ME DAEMON!" He shouted at her, his face twisted by terror. He flailed in vain to keep her at bay but Kia pinned his hands to the snow with ice. He grunted, trying to break free but it was too late. Kia refreshed the ice around her hands and reeled back. She punched him across his face as hard as she could. His nose erupted with blood and Dale took a ragged breath. She punched him again. Again. Again. And again. So many times but it was never enough, not even when his face was a bloody pulp. Not even when the ice shattered around her fingers. Not even- not even…

The haze began to fade. Like snow melting, her anger washed away, and she was left with a stark realization. One that crept into her being, building upon her anxiety and fears. She gripped her head, taking quick breaths as she looked at the bloody mess that was Dale's face.

Her eyes grew wide and she instantly felt sick to her stomach. She fell over and vomited. What had she done? What had SHE DONE?

She brutalized them. She proved them right. She was a daemon. She was a monster and now- Now everything would change. She shot her head up and went over to Dale. She checked for breathing. It was faint but there. She realised the ice that encased him and froze the moment she looked at his hands. They were blueish-white, the signs of frostbite. She touched a hand but could feel no warmth.

She began to panic, she had to do something! She spotted his dagger and grabbed it, then began cutting a strip of fur off of herself. She wrapped them around his hands with a gentle touch and began pressing them for warmth to spread. That was when she heard her voices and her gaze came upon the rest of her attackers shambling their way through the trees.

Even from there distance, she could see the frozen blood, the cold faces of frost burn and those they carried or dragged.

What had she done?

Kia looked down at her trembling hands, covered in blood that was not her own.

She had to go.

They would kill her now. There was no denying that. And Rorik… Oh no.

Kia quickly got to her feet and ran.




She arrived at the outskirts of the tribe's camp and skirted the edge until her and Rorik's tent came into view. When she was certain the coast was clear, she dug her hands into her furs and hurried over to it, eyes darting at anyone who looked her way. Thankfully, no one cared and she ducked in under the flap.

Rorik was sharpening his knife and looked up at her, taken aback at first, he then glowered. “What happened this time?”

Kia began to rummage through her belongings, putting everything she owned into her sack. “I-I-I-”

Rorik stood with a grunt. “Speak girl.”

Kia took a deep breath. “Several weeks ago I was in the hot springs and Yamat appeared before me.”

“Yamat? Who’s that?” Rorik asked. “Why didn’t you tell me if a man was sneaking in to take a look?”

“He wasn’t a man! He was a-a-a God.” she gulped.

Rorik furrowed his brow. “Go on, Kia.”

“He told me many things and he gave me a gift. He said it ran in my blood, I-” She outstretched her bloody hand and a small icicle sprouted. Rorik narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
“So I would go into the forest and practice from time to time and today they found me. Dale and his friends. I tried to stop but he said such horrible things and I-I snapped. My blood boiled and a haze took me. I had to hurt him, I had to and I… I did.”

“Did you kill anyone?” Rorik asked.

Kia shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I hurt them. I hurt them real bad. I have to go. I can’t stay here any longer.” She began to pack again.

“Kia... “ He breathed.

“Just stop Rorik. We both know that it’s better this way. There’s no need to say anything. I know you hate me for what I am already.” Kia said, blinking away tears.

“I don’t hate you child. I resented you at first, perhaps I still do… But you are one of the last things your mother left behind and I swore to her, I would protect you. I would care for you. I see now how I failed.” Rorik went over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. She turned her head to look at him. “Listen to me. If what you say is true, if these powers are strong, then you can protect yourself for better than I ever could. I’m useless with this leg. You’ll be on your own for a long time. Don’t trust anyone. Not other tribes, not the horned ones on the coasts, not even gods. Go south, to warmer lands. Leave your past here in the north. Do this for yourself, and for your mother.” He moved a strand of hair out of her eyes and gave a rare smile.

“You look so much like her.”

Kia blinked several times, unsure of how to react. She finally gave a small nod and hoisted her pack onto her back. “Thank you, for everything.” She said, opening the flap.

Her heart dropped as soon as she took a step outside.

It was too late.

“There you are, filth.” Came the chief’s voice. Several men stood outside, with many more running up from behind. At the chief’s side was a girl that she recognized from the forest. She scowled at her as Rorik came outside as well.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded.

The chief pointed at Kia. “That daemon is the meaning of this. For too long have I tolerated her presence! I should have killed her the day she was born and have been done with it.”

“Bradik, you were Yalka’s friend. You respected her wishes-”

“Yalka is dead and her spawn is responsible for attacking MY SON and the rest of the children! I cannot let this happen any longer. Worse yet, she’s possessed by a spirit! No one in our tribe is capable of such… abominations.” Bradik spat.

Rorik stepped in front of Kia. “They were the aggressors and she defended herself! They would have killed her and you know it.”

“So?” Bradik snarled, “One less thing to worry about, but now, now we have to do it the hard way.” He whistled and several men emerged from behind their tent. Kia got closer to Rorik and she looked around, panic building in her heart.

“You don’t have to do this! None of you have to! Banish her instead, I beg it!” Rorik pleaded.

“If you had wanted to leave, you would have left when she was born. No, this ends in only one way and then, we can be free from the Daemon’s taint for good.” Bradik raised his hand, and dropped it.

From somewhere within the crowd an arrow was loosed. Kia didn’t even see it coming until Rorik pushed her backwards. Kia’s eyes went wide as Rorik fell to the ground, arrow through his neck. His crimson blood gurgled from his mouth as he clutched his throat, looking up at Kia. Then he grew still.

Kia was in shock. What just happened? Why wasn’t Rorik moving? Why was he-he-he…

The haze returned, erupting to the surface of her mind. Stronger than before, more precise. They killed him! They killed Rorik! And now they would suffer. Another arrow whizzed past her head and her expression twisted into fury.

Every injustice, every slander, every memory of their abuse, their uncaring notions- It all welled up inside, ready to burst.

And burst it did.

Kia screamed, and the very ground around her erupted into deadly spikes. They shot off into the crowd, skewering the first row. A panic ensued as people began to scream and shout. Those that tried to flee were stopped by the ice that encased their feet and worked its way up their bodies, turning them into living statues.

The air grew colder, freezing exposed flesh in a blink and those who did not find themselves encased by the ice, were falling over as their limbs broke. She began to walk, a storm of icicles surrounded her, shooting off into fleeing tribesmen. She saw Bradik stuck by the ice, and she summoned the largest spike yet. It erupted from the ground and impaled him through his chest and his screams became silent. The spike rose above the others as a monument, but Kia wasn’t done yet. If they hated her so much, then she would give testament to that hate. She raised her hand high, and slammed it into the ground. The ground quivered and then as if a great weight was released, ripped apart in great ravines before exploding outwards. Ice flew everywhere, and like arrows, pierced anything that remained standing with staggering force. It stole her breath away. The way the sunlight reflected off the ice, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

And it was the last thing she saw, before the haze faded and exertion took its toll. As the world grew dark, she felt her body slip into snow.







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The Reconquest 1 - Gathering Allies



Year 29AA, outside the small hamlet of Ha-Leothe, east of Ha-Dûna...

The four-five huts that had once made up the pastoral community of Ha-Leothe laid in smouldering ruins. Barns and smokehouses that had housed their keep and supplies stood instead ablaze, though not before having been stripped down to the skeleton for anything that could be salvaged. The supplies were heaped up in the hamlet centre, surrounded by raggedy, meagre-boned, yet dreadfully vicious warriors of Ha-Dûna. Behind the heap stood a quickly-assembled altar to Sigeran: it consisted of three poles, each topped with the bleeding head of a villager, surrounding their piled-up corpses. The rest of the folk of Ha-Leothe wept with rope about their hands, forming a line of enslaved prisoners of war. The largest of the warriors offered the last hut still on fire a sharp scowl before she spat.

“That’s the last of it?”

“That’s the last of it,” confirmed one of her fellow brigands.

“Good. Let’s move. These people look slower than the last catch. Come on!” She yanked at the rope, the ten or so people tied to it staggering forward a pace, more so due to each others’ imbalance and trance of disbelief. “Frasa, take Huin to lead the cattle back. Samuin, you’ll--”

She quieted herself. The other warriors saw her and immediately reached for their weapons. The ground trembled and the nearby woods screamed with snapping twigs and rustling leaves. The warriors quickened their breathing in knowing fright. The largest among them grit her teeth.

“Shit, they’re coming! Quickly, take as much as you can, and--!” An arrow nailed her in the arm and she fell over. The rest of the band ducked for cover and pulled their weapons out. From the woods came another band of soldiers, led by Boudicca hefting a great axe above her head.

“FOR HA-DÛNA!” the warrioress roared.

“FOR HA-DÛNA!” her companions echoed. The brigands managed to avoid another volley of arrows, as they saw the archers lower their bows for fear of killing the civilians. The brigands met the charge - their numbers were almost equal, but the followers of Sigeran were tired and underfed. Boudicca and her warriors hammered into first few brigands with spears, axe and club, breaking them quickly. Some of them ran at the civilians, but they were immediately stopped by a Mother descending from the sky to trap them in silk or slay them with terrible fury.

“H-HOLD THE LINE!” The greatest among the brigands rose to quivering feet, clutching her bloody arm. “We cannot lose these supplies! Our people are starving! FIGHT ON!” She grabbed her own spear, but it was knocked out of her hand. She looked up just in time to stare Boudicca in the face, the other woman towering over her. Before the brigand could speak, Boudicca swung her axe, taking her head and raising it to the sky. The sight shattered what remained of enemy morale, and the brigands ran for the hills in an instant, hounded by arrows all the way. Meanwhile, Boudicca approached the altar to Sigeran. She glared at it and raised the head of the brigand leader up to meet the eyes of the spiked heads of the villagers.

“Know this, you cruel god! This is what happens to those who follow you, and we will not stop until Ha-Dûna and her lands are free of your ilk!” With that, she cast the head to the ground, where it bruised and rolled up to her foot. She panted and looked back up, her eyes filling with sorrow as she studied the tortured faces of the villager heads. “They are growing more desperate by the day.

The accompanying Mother, busily untying the ropes holding the villagers and tending to their wounds, offered a quiet hum of acknowledgement. “What else can we expect? With locusts eating at their fields and starving their livestock, how else would they eat? Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered beast...” She wrapped a young girl’s bruised leg with silk and went to tend to an old man clutching his bleeding left eye.

“Here, let me help,” said Boudicca to the villagers attempting to carefully topple the poles holding up their molested friends and family, and other warriors came to help them. As the villagers gathered around the corpses to mourn and weep, the warriors helped them regather the supplies and salvage what prized belongings remained in the ruins. Boudicca oversaw the work while the Mother continued to perform first aid next to her on the villagers that needed it. Some of the warriors had, too, been wounded in the battle, and more than one needed their wounds bandaged and their bones set. When the pressure died down slightly, the Mother wiped her hands clean of blood on a silk rag and stepped over to Boudicca with her arms crossed. The giant offered her a nod and set her eyes back on the villagers huddling around three corpse pyres symbolically built inside the charcoal skeleton of the largest hamlet hut.

“Do you sympathise with them, Kelly?” Boudicca asked openly. The Mother offered her a sideways glance.

“Of course, I do. Their lives were ruined; their homes, burnt to the ground - all at the whims of a crazed priestess back in the city that used to rule these lands.”

“No, I mean - do you sympathise with the Sigerans? The way you spoke about them earlier seemed as though-...”

“I don’t. Well… That’s not really true…” She lowered her gaze as Boudicca raised her a brow. “I guess it’s innate in my psyche as a Mother to feel sympathy for all things - no matter how evil. The Sigerans, though…” The two of them watched the villagers set their dead aflame, supported by the Dûnan warriors who offered them sympathies and poems for the dead. Kelly furrowed her brow. “The Sigerans make it really hard.”

Boudicca sucked pensively on a tooth. “I can’t pretend like I understand much of your philosophy, but… If that’s who you are, then as long as it doesn’t hinder your ability as a soldier, I will respect it. We’re killing our brothers and sisters, after all - our families, people we saw every day.” She glanced over at one of the Sigeran corpses. “I remember her face, that one - used to sell carrot bread and baked potatoes from a small stall by the eastern resthouse. Now she’s dead - slain for little more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.” She put a hand on Kelly’s shoulder and the Mother shrunk. “Maybe we could all use a little heart in these times.”

“Yeah… Maybe.”

After the pyres had begun to die down and the tears of the villagers had begun to dry up, they all gathered in the centre by the three holes in the bloodied soil where the altar once had stood. The villagers still looked shaken, and many burst into tears again when surveying the remains of their home a second time. Their emotions seemed to sober down, however, as Kelly spread her wings wide and wafted forth a small cloud of pollen-like dust, which swept over the villagers like a tranquil puff of wind. The youngest among them fell asleep in their parents’ arms, and the most exhausted struggled to stand upright. The weakest were supported by Dûnan soldiers, quick reflexes saving them from a visit to the ground. The Mother smiled appreciatively at the helpers and spoke,

“This is the worst of times, people of Ha-Leothe. Your homes and loved ones were taken by those you once called friends, brothers, sisters… Truly, no punishment is worse than this.” The crowd collectively lowered their heads.

“The Sigerans will pay for this!” snarled one of the men. He was instantly supported by tearful cries of rage. Kelly offered them another wave of calming pollen and nodded slowly.

“The Sigerans will pay, yes - however, as Gibbou says: ‘First, we must ensure those we hold dear are safe; only then can we turn to face those who threaten them.’ We cannot allow ourselves to be consumed by vengeance and throw caution and love to the wind. We must, as Artafax would say, ‘come together to form a foundation’. This foundation will support the tower which is our reconquest of Ha-Dûna.” She studied the expressions of the crowd and scrunched her nose. “In other words, we cannot go out on our own. We must come together as one and strike back as one.” She gestured to the building skeletons. “Your homes were taken from you - they cannot be given back; nor can the lives of those they slayed. The true sons and daughters of Ha-Dûna can offer you new housing and friendship, however, either at Kirin’s Rest or Scawick. They won’t replace the old, but it’s all we can do.”

The villagers exchanged weary glances. Kelly sighed. “It’s your own choice. We will not force you either way.” Boudicca, meanwhile, kept close watch of the hills to which the enemy had escaped. Suddenly, a shadow appeared over one of them - humanoid and, from the looks of their hands, armed with a spear. The shadow became multiple, and they were approaching fast. The giant grit her teeth and spun to look at her companion, a huntress named Gro.

“Run back and tell Kelly to evacuate the villagers! Everyone, to arms!” As Gro ran back, Boudicca formed a line with her seven other companions, leaving those who had been wounded earlier to stay with the villagers. The incoming force seemed undeterred by their resilience, despite their inferior numbers. In fact, their charge seemed completely fearless - so much so that it struck fear in herself. Boudicca’s eyes went wide with terror as she recognised the soldiers - especially the one in the lead.

“Ragnar…” breathed one of her companions through quivering teeth. Boudicca looked around in horror. Her companions were visibly wavering.

“... The Black Hog…” whispered another.

It was the Stone Boars.

A scream sounded from Boudicca’s left - one of her companions ran away screaming, throwing her weapon behind her. Instantly, as though of one mind, the other seven followed suit, their morale shattered to pieces by the terror of the impending enemy.

“NO! Stand your ground!” commanded Boudicca, but it was no use. She saw the Dûnan warriors run past Kelly, who was still helping the civilians escape, and into the forest. If the Stone Boars broke past her, they would slay the rest of the villagers and finish what the brigands had started. The giant felt the gall of fear in her throat nearly choke her - she had no reason to stand her ground. She was one warrior - against six trained paladins, no less. Even if she could delay them, it would be no more than a second. Her sacrifice would have been for nothing and the people she had vowed to save would be stacked atop one another in an even greater altar to Sigeran.

And yet…

She brandished her axe and roared her challenge at Ragnar, who slowed down slightly upon seeing the fervour of the giant. His panting face twisted into a grin and he reassumed his charge, followed by his five companions. Boudicca reached down to the ground, coated her hand in some soot and ash from the building debris and dragged it across her face. She cast one last glance over her shoulder. Kelly was looking back at her, shouting for her to retreat with them. Boudicca shook her head.

“Keep them safe! I’ll stall them!” Then she raised her hand high in the air, bellowed another roar and sprinted forth to meet the enemy charge. In her sprint, she felt her life flash before her eyes, and it settled on a particular memory - the Helgensblot that had given rise to all this chaos. She remembered the joy she had felt when she had finally beaten Frode the Enduring in Caden’s test of strength.

Strength… Yes, would that she could be stronger in this moment - strong enough to hold off this impending foe for long enough that her friends could escape. Strength so, so she could survive to fight another day. She was afraid - deathly afraid - but with strength of body and spirit, she could endure.

“Caden,” she whispered, “give me strength.”

There was a moment’s pause, and then a voice spoke within her mind. You have strength enough. But a shoddy weapon like that? That won’t do. Then, to her horror, the axe in her hand crumbled into dust. She had only a moment to process this before a new weapon materialized; it was a shining silvery blade, nearly three feet in length, with a small gilded crossguard, and a hilt wrapped in a fabric that felt luxuriously soft in her hand. That should suffice, I think, the voice added rather smugly.

“W-what?” Boudicca whispered. The miracle was seen by everyone, and the Stone Boars came to a halt a mere ten feet away. Both friend and foe watched in awe as Boudicca turned the weapon around in her hand. Even the fearstruck Dûnans came back out to behold the sight. The edge caught the sun, its light winking flirtily at Boudicca’s eyes.

“... It’s a miracle,” came a whisper. Boudicca looked up and saw that all the Stone Boars had turned to look at one of their members, a veteran of Grimholt like her named Parix. “She’s been blessed by the gods…” Behind her, the others inched ever closer to behold the sword. Boudicca turned and raised a palm.

“Stay back! Don’t be-- woah!”

The sound of quick paces had brought her attention back to the front in the nick of time. A spearman named Gerad had made an attempt to impale her with a swift, silent strike, but she managed to dodge to the side and grab the spear shaft. Behind Gerad, the remaining Stone Boars looked to waver uncertainly, too.

“Gerad, you fool! She’s got the attention of the gods - we must retrea--!”

“There is only ONE GOD - I fight for the glory of SIGERAN! HAHAHAHAHA!” The spearman laughed maniacally as he wrested free his spear and jabbed at her again. Boudicca was prepared, though, and dodged out of the way. Gerad snarled and stabbed again - but the giant kept sidestepping his strikes. Oddly enough, she didn’t feel her body tire - even as their dance lasted several incessant minutes. This served only to break the Stone Boar morale down further and further as Gerad’s determination only had him sinking more and more power into his strikes, until he could barely move anymore. Boudicca, on the other hand, barely felt sweaty - and part of her considered the very real possibility that that was older sweat.

“Who-... Who are you to-... To disrespect me this way, Boudicca, huh?!” Gerad spat through his heavy breathing. Boudicca scowled as the spearman hefted his weapon again for another strike. “Use what your false god has given you, now… FIGHT ME LIKE YOU MEAN IT!”

Then, as Gerad’s strike once more missed, Boudicca used the momentum of her sidestep to lift her arm across her head and bring her sword straight down on his head. Gerad saw the strike and closed his eyes in evident prayer that his copper helmet would take the brunt of the blow. However, to everyone’s horror and astonishment, the sword went clean through the metal as though it was paper, and continued through skin, bone and organs as though it was butter. The strike was so clean that the sword carved deeply into the soil once through, the amount of power used in the strike having overshot the necessary amount by several magnitudes. Boudicca even struggled to pull the sword back up as the two halves of Gerad collapsed against one another and buckled down over her. Boudicca should, by all the laws of nature, have been caked in blood from top to toe; however, as the giant dragged the corpse parts off of her back with wet squelches, the blood on her body seemed only to pool in spots that brought out her muscled and womanly features, adding artificial shadow to her hips, breasts and face. Upon reviewing herself, Boudicca looked flustered, confused and uncomfortable.

The onlookers blinked to confirm what they saw. The Stone Boars shifted between her and their butchered comrade. Ragnar the Black Hog shook his head slowly. “... That, that was copper - he was wearing a copper helmet.”

“... Ragnar… This isn’t worth it,” Parix pleaded. Boudicca looked up from her only slightly bloodied hands and pointed her sword at the remaining five.

“You will be given one chance to retreat, Ragnar.” Around her, her companions reformed the line, joined by Kelly and even some villagers armed with sticks and stones. The Black Hog grit his teeth.

“This isn’t over, Boudicca. We will have our fight yet.” With that, the Stone Boars started jogging back up the hill. Boudicca lowered her sword and let out a groan of relief.

“You’re letting them go?” asked the huntress Gro, an arrow nocked ready on her bow. Boudicca placed her hand on hers.

“The Stone Boars are our brothers and sisters, just like everyone else in Ha-Dûna. We will take no pleasure in killing them, for killing family is nothing short of a sin.” She sighed again as the shadows topped the hill and disappeared. “They are broken, weakened. The gods have cursed them terribly for the acts of a few individuals. The last thing they need is to lay awake in the night in fear that we will butcher every last one of them.” She gave Kelly a nod, who nodded smilingly back. “Now come on - I know Kelly said you have a choice to stay, but given how exposed you are here, I encourage you to come with us.”

“No need to tell us twice. If you’ll help us retake our home in the future, then you have strength we can give,” said the man from earlier. Boudicca nodded.

“Good. Ha-Dûna will be freed yet.”




That evening, when the Dûnans and refugees had made camp, Boudicca stepped away from the campfires and into the woods. A thought had tickled at the edge of her mind: What had made her deserving of Caden’s aid? Had it all been the result of a simply coincidence? What were the implications of this - a lesser god offering aid in a moment of crisis? The parallels to Sigeran cast a shadow over her thoughts: Could Caden’s aid simply be another attempt by a single god to take control of Ha-Dûna?

She wouldn’t stand for it. Had he spoken with her once, she would speak to him again. She found herself a clearing, descended to her knees and folded her hands. “Caden, our saviour, are you there?”

There were several long seconds of silence, and then a voice answered. I am indeed. What is it?

Boudicca blinked in brief surprise before biting her teeth together. “You, you rescued us - rescued me - from death’s jaws earlier by offering your aid when you did… Why?”

There was another pause before the god answered again. Because a warrior who stands her ground against hopeless odds for a noble cause, even when everyone else has fled, is worthy of aid.

Boudicca frowned. “Is… Is that the only reason?” She paused. “Forgive me if I seem blunt, but the last year or so haven’t given me the best impression of gods coming out of virtually nowhere to help us. Is, is there anything else to this?”

You think I’m expecting something in return?

“I couldn’t say, your holiness. None of us know much of anything these days. We have been tricked before, though - forgive us for our skepticism.”

Tell me, Boudicca, what do you intend to do after Ha-Dûna is free?

Boudicca frowned. “That’s… We will make the Sigerans pay for what they did and, and try to get the city back on its feet. Ha-Dûna is the pearl of the west - I won’t let it collapse in on itself at the hands of some crazed fanatics.” She hammered her chest. “I will see to its restoration myself, if I have to.”

And after that?

“W-well… We will return to our lives, I suppose. My husband and I, we, we had a pasture, up in Blikkentind, a day or so away from the city. Our daughter, Hega, would run between the cows and hide in the tall grass…” She sighed. “That’s what I want to return to, anyway.”

Not the times when your people were running around, merrily slaughtering their neighbours? the god asked, a hint of distaste in his voice.

“I never condoned the slaughter, your holiness, but we did what we needed to to survive. Our people would be starving if we hadn’t taken that land. The way my people treated the enemy notwithstanding, we have only ever done what we had to for the good of Ha-Dûna.” She frowned. “We cannot be faulted for that.”

Yet your people can be faulted for how far they went, Cadien pointed out. I am more than just a God of Strength and Teeth, you know. I am a God of Beauty, a God of Endurance, and most relevantly I am also a God of War. But war must have rules. Not everyone your people killed needed to die. Even if you did not condone it, you did not stop it, and the division of your people right now is a consequence of that unchecked slaughter and fanaticism.

“What should I, one woman, have done, then? The Dûnans are a proud people, but we’re also four different tribes with only half a century or so of history together - not even that, I think. We acknowledge our mistakes now, but the past is in the past - hindsight will only break what little morale we have left!” She paused to breathe sharply. “It’s horrible enough that we have to kill our brothers and sisters.”

’I am just one woman’, or ‘I am just one man’, are things I hear quite often. Sometimes, the people who say it to themselves stand right next to each other, without ever once realizing they are of the same mind. Sometimes, the dissenters are greater than the ones they oppose, but they all think they stand alone, and so they go along with it. Yet if one had the courage to step up… the God’s voice trailed off.

But you are right, he picked the conversation back up after a few moments. We cannot change the past. Not even Gods. What I am trying to change is the future. I do not wish to see the slaughters of the past years repeated. I’ll not begrudge your people for waging war, for sometimes war is necessary, but I’ll expect them to do so honourably and sensibly.

Boudicca scrunched her nose. “I cannot speak on behalf of my people, I’m afraid. Our tribes are many, and our people, diverse. But I hope, pray, that after this is all over, my people will have learned from their mistakes and the viciousness of the Sigerans. That is all I can vow for now.”

That is all anyone in your position can vow, I suppose. But you underestimate your influence. Your people now see you as a leader, and I suspect they will continue to do so even after this dispute is over. For why wouldn’t they listen to the champion of their creator?

“Creator? I’m no champion of Reiya.”

Hm? Why is that- oh. For a moment the god fell silent once again. Then, he sighed. It truly amazes me how much mortals forget with the passage of time. But I suppose your people have more pressing issues than the truth about who created them, and introducing another religious conflict now is the last thing you need. Anyhow, know that I give you permission to call yourself my champion, and I offer you one more gift.

Boudicca stood up in a hurry. “W-wait, I’m confused - what’s happening?”

An object materialized on the ground in front of her. It was a warhorn, but unlike any other horn it was purple in colour. The men you call Stone Boars. The fear you feel when they face you on the battlefield. It is not natural, it is not your own; it is the work of some other god. You cannot fight them without some means to counter it, so this horn will banish that fear from the minds of those who follow you.

Boudicca looked at the horn suspiciously, then slowly knelt down to pick it up. “... The work of a god - of course! Must’ve been the work of Sigeran, too, I’d wager. Nothing is too low for him.” She thought for a moment. “... But the Stone Boars appeared over a decade ago, though… Has Sigeran been with us for that long?” She looked to the heavens. “Do you know?”

There is no god named Sigeran, as far as I know, Caden told her. It’s possible that a new god has come into existence, but that is a rare occurrence. More likely, he is an older god who has given your people a false name, or one of your people invented one for him, but I will have to look into the matter further to be sure.

Boudicca frowned. “... Now… Now that you mention it, the druid Gene - she’s the one who proclaimed the existence of Sigeran - back in Grimholt three years ago.” She clutched her head. “... But then… Who gave us eternal life for the battle? If not Sigeran, then who?”

I do not know, Cadien said. Gods go by different names in different regions. My own true name isn’t even Caden - though that is rather close to it.

“This… This is a lot.”

Hm. I suppose it is. Just focus on retaking your home, for now. The machinations of the gods may be beyond you, but you still have power over your immediate surroundings, and your people look to you for leadership.

“If, if you say so, your holiness.” She paused to study the horn in her hands - she would be a champion of Caden now, chosen to lead the Dûnans back into their city. She had been a leader before - this, she knew - but divine mandate added a whole nother layer. She nodded to herself. “I will do my best.”






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